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Top Challenges for Beginning Farmers

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

By Hannah Shear

Boy on a toy tractor (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Editor’s note: Today we welcome Hannah Shear, the coordinator for the Beginning Farmer Success Program with University of Maryland Extension. Hannah will be contributing a monthly post on beginning farmer issues in Maryland. To learn more about BFS, see

Beginning Farmer Success

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a “Beginning Farmer” those who have operated a farm or ranch for 10 years or less either as a sole operator or with others who have operated a farm or ranch for 10 years or less. For those beginning farmers attempting to establish themselves in the current agriculture environment, there are many hurdles to overcome.

Several national studies have helped determine the biggest hurdles for beginning farmers. The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) as well as the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) each conducted national surveys to identify the biggest challenges for beginning farmers. Both surveys reported access to land and access to credit/profitability as top hurdles for beginning farmers. Other issues identified include government regulations and legal assistance as well as business planning and marketing skills.

In an effort to address these challenges, the USDA established the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. This program provides grant funding to programs and institutions attempting to help beginning farmers eliminate or at least manage the fore mentioned challenges. This is where the Maryland Collaborative for Beginning Farmer Success (BFS) program comes in to play. BFS is a comprehensive education program that includes workshops, coaching, mentoring and on-farm training. BFS brings together the University of Maryland College Park, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the Southern Maryland Agriculture Development Commission, and Future Harvest: A Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (FH-CASA) as partners in education and outreach. This project was funded as a part of the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and is a partnership between university, government, and nonprofit agencies.

Maryland Beginning Farmer Guidebook

BFS’ main goal is to increase the number of successful beginning farmers and their acreage farmed in Maryland, with an emphasis on practical training. The BFS program attempts to alleviate many of the challenges beginning farmers face; learn more about the program and find beginning farmer resources (such as our Beginning Farmer Guidebook) at

BFS was interested in learning if the national concerns for beginning farmers paralleled beginning farmer challenges in Maryland. BFS conducted a survey of participants to identify top challenges for beginning farmers in Maryland. And… the results matched almost perfectly to the national surveys. Participants were asked to rank the top three needs of beginning farmers (in order 1, 2 and 3). Results indicated the top three needs were: 1) Available farmland to rent or purchase 2) Access to credit and financing and 3) Crop production information. Other substantial results included 4) Marketing assistance and 5) Legal assistance.

Table 1: Summary of Beginning Farmer Studies

As the table summarizes, topics of land rank highest in terms of beginning farmer needs. This includes areas of land access, securing adequate land, and availability of farmland to rent or purchase. The second highest need is topics within financial management including capital, credit, profitability, and financing. Following these needs, the survey results begin to differ. The UMD BFS survey and the American Farm Bureau Survey recognized government regulations and legal assistance as needs of beginning farmers showing there are issues both locally and nationally in that area. The UMD BFS survey and the National Young Farmers Coalition identified business planning and marketing as a need illustrating the importance of those topics on a local and national level.

So… we know what the challenges are; now how do you overcome them? The BFS program attempts to address each of these challenges. BFS’s partner, SMADC, continues to manage Maryland FarmLink to help beginning farmers find land. Resources in the areas of lending, capital management, financial management, and marketing will be expanded and are currently provided on our website. BFS provides a wide selection of training opportunities to meet educational needs, including mentoring, coaching, and on-farm training. The BFS website provides online resource referrals, education learning modules, and various publications. As BFS programming moves forward it will be continuously important to stay engaged with participants needs for education to ensure successful and profitable farms.

Later blog posts will address each of these challenges individually and provide guidance as how to best overcome these challenges. So stay tuned to learn how best to address the challenge of land access for beginning farmers.


This project was supported by the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant #2010-49400-21719. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). (2014). Young Farmers Remain Concerned About Land.

National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC). (2011). Building a Future with Farmers.

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