University of the Nevada Cooperative Extension has been awarded a $672,000 federal grant to develop a program to help beginning farmers and ranchers across the state.
Mineral County Extension Educator Staci Emm will head up the new statewide program team, which will develop educational courses, workshops, technical assistance, business advice and mentoring programs for Nevadans just getting started in farming or ranching.
"This will provide help for anyone who meets USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher program requirements," Emm said. "It will be statewide - from Las Vegas to Owyhee and from Wells to Washoe County."
The goal is to help beginning agricultural producers succeed by providing them the opportunity to utilize the latest financial management tools, develop entrepreneurial skills, receive on-the-ground training in production agriculture including water conservation and irrigation, and get assistance in marketing Nevada agriculture products, Emm said. The program will also provide mentors, apprenticeships, marketing materials and other tools to help make Nevada farms and ranches more profitable and sustainable.
Ultimately, Emm said, every resident in Nevada wins when they can trace the origin of their agriculture products. And having access to Nevada products ensures that our purchasing power stays right here in Nevada.
"The goal is to make these farms and ranches sustainable and increase profitability," she said. "That helps everybody - from the towns where these farms are located to urban areas, which benefit from a close, safe, abundant food supply right here in our own state."
Cooperative Extension earned the National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant by already having an effective track record helping beginner farmers and ranchers. Through a wide variety of programs, Cooperative Extension has helped farmers and ranchers diversify their crops, control weeds, establish grazing practices that improve rangeland health and build small-scale boutique farming operations growing fruits and vegetables for Nevada cities and restaurants.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that one in five farmers nationally is a beginner. These novices are typically younger than established agricultural producers -although almost a third are older than 55 - and they face steep start-up costs and a limited availability of land. The federal government supports beginner farmers out of concern about the increasing age of established farmers and ranchers - almost two thirds of whom are older than 55 - and concerns about the availability and abundance of food supplies.
According to the USDA, Clark and Storey counties have the highest percentage of beginning farmers and ranchers in the state, with more than 40 percent of the agriculture producers there having been in the business less than 10 years. Washoe and Lander counties have the next highest concentration of beginners, with between 36 and 40 percent.
Emm said she is meeting with Extension Educators and agriculture partners all over the state to determine what types of programs are needed in Nevada's farming and ranching communities. She expects that some programs will become available as early as the spring of 2012.
The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension is the outreach college that extends knowledge from the University of Nevada - and other land-grant universities - to local communities to address critical needs. UNCE is a federal-state-county partnership with 19 statewide offices. Its more than 200 personnel — with the help of volunteers — conduct programs in agriculture; children, youth and families; community development; health and nutrition; horticulture; and natural resources.