Over the next 20 years, more than 370 million acres – nearly half of all farmland in the U.S. – is predicted to change hands.
At the National Young Farmers Coalition, we believe this massive transfer of land, wealth and knowledge to the young farmers of the next generation also has the potential to yield a more just, sustainable future – driven by the priorities not of their grandparents, but of their grandchildren.
Young farmers today have spent their entire careers operating in a different climate reality than their predecessors. In Colorado, we have members who have had to cut the growing season short because their water was shut off due to drought. In Iowa, it’s floods. In Texas, frost.
Climate change is not only real; it’s a daily threat to their livelihoods. Working with nature to conserve water, prevent runoff and enrich the soil has become a core part of their business to ensure they can keep farming for the long haul.
This generational transfer of farmland also presents new opportunities for young farmers who have historically been denied access to land and federal programs, from children of immigrant farmworkers to LGBTQ-led operations.
In farming, change starts from the ground up. But raising your voice as a young person in a room of seasoned professionals takes courage, particularly when you’re the only woman or person of color in the room, or you don’t speak the language.
The National Young Farmers Coalition is a national grassroots advocacy organization made up of 48 local chapters in 31 states. Through legislative education, organizing and support, we are giving young members from all backgrounds the tools to stand up for the issues that matter most to them.
To figure out precisely what these issues are, we go straight to the source. Our policy committee, made up of an intentionally diverse group of young members, is the driver of our advocacy platform.
For our members in the West, for example, water supply is always at the forefront. With support from the Walton Family Foundation, we piloted our first-ever fellowship program in Colorado last year, working with 10 young farmers and ranchers over nine months on water issue fluency, conflict management and leadership development. The group hosted water trainings for more than 100 of their peers, and eight fellows ran for local water and conservation board seats. Three were elected.
Change – especially in a profession as traditional as agriculture – takes time. But with each young farmer that starts a new farm, joins a local water board, or adopts a new conservation practice, change is happening, acre by acre. As we continue to witness this generational shift unfold, where farming heads next should rest firmly in the hopeful, hardworking hands of the generation it is shifting toward.
The National Young Farmers Coalition is a Walton Family Foundation grantee.