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Nebraska Sets the Standard for New Farmers

Nebraska’s success in recruiting new farmers and ranchers could point the way for other states and Congress to reverse the decline in the number of new producers.

Nebraska has innovative beginning-farmer initiatives that include an exemption from personal property taxes as well as a tax credit for landowners who lease to new farmers.

Another Nebraska program, operated by a state technical college, works with the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to help young ranchers get started by trading their labor for access to land where they can run cattle or grow crops.

In 2012, Nebraska had 3,999 farmers with less than five years experience in their operations, up from 3,369 in 2007.

Even more striking: The number of farmers in Nebraska under age 35 jumped by 42 percent — from 3,353 in 2007 to 4,747 in 2012. The total number of farms in Nebraska rose by nearly 5 percent over the period, even as the total nationwide dropped by more than 4 percent.

The refundable tax credit for landowners is intended to help aspiring farmers overcome the daunting challenge of acquiring acreage, which has become even more difficult to afford as land values have soared in recent years. The tax credit is worth 10 percent of the cash rent or 15 percent of the crop share rent for each of three years.

In addition to an exemption from personal property taxes, beginning farmers also can get a $500 tax credit on a financial management class.

Traci Bruckner, a policy analyst with the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs, says her own nephew just took advantage of the state initiative.

It’s a “great program that we would like to see hitched on to a tax bill at the federal level,” she said.

The demand for land far outstrips the amount available. Bruckner’s group, which tries to connect aspiring farmers with landowners, has 500 new producers looking for land but only about 30 landowners offering acreage.

To deal with that issue, the two-year Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture started its “100-cow” and now “100-acre” programs to link agricultural students with farmers and ranchers. The students agree to work for the farmer and rancher in return for being able to use some of their land for a modest amount of cattle or crops, hence the name of the program.

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency provides operating loans to the producers.

Wyoming has started a similar program to Nebraska’s and South Dakota is designing one as well, said Doug Smith, the Nebraska college’s animal science chairman.

He believes new farmers will have a market to tap into, especially with the demand for locally produced foods, if they can overcome the barriers to getting started.

“We’re seeing more and more increase in locally grown foods and therefore we’re going to see an increase in people who want to do that,” he said. “The problem they have is land values.”

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