The motivations, challenges and needs of small- and medium-scale beginning farmers in the midwestern United States
Keywords:Diversified Agricultural Systems, Sustainable Food System, Small-Scale Farming, Beginning Farmer, Sustainability, Local Food
Beginning farmers are increasingly recognized as important agricultural actors in the United States. Efforts to help interested individuals enter agriculture have increased; however, there is still a substantial knowledge gap regarding beginning farmers’ characteristics, motivations to farm, challenges, and information and resource needs, particularly among those who operate small or medium-sized farms. In this research, we collected and analyzed survey data in Indiana to gain a better understanding of small- and medium-scale beginning farmers in the midwestern United States. We found that small- and medium-scale beginning farmers were motivated by their desire for a farming lifestyle and to support local food and agroecological farming systems on a landscape dominated by commodity crops. They relied substantially on off-farm income and faced related challenges including limited access to labor and difficulty balancing their on-farm and off-farm responsibilities. Finding effective marketing strategies also challenged this group of farmers, as they were not well-integrated into existing agricultural programs, and many had limited interactions with agricultural agencies and organizations. Instead, the majority of small- and medium-scale beginning farmers relied heavily on their own internet research and informal interactions with other farmers to learn and obtain help for their farms. Together, our results contribute to a better understanding of small- and medium-scale beginning farmers’ characteristics, motivations, and farming practices, as well as the challenges they face and the support they need to address these challenges. Because beginning farmers often differ from their more established counterparts who operate larger farms, the results of this research can be used to inform tailored agricultural programs and technical assistance that address small- and medium-scale beginning farmers’ specific needs and challenges in order to increase their likelihood of success to not only start but also sustain a small- or medium-scale farm over time.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Keri Iles, Rebecca Nixon, Zhao Ma, Kevin Gibson, Tamara Benjamin
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