By Sophie Neems, Previous NFU Intern & Current Communications Specialist at Farm Credit

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) supports American farmers in a myriad of ways, primarily by offering services such as crop insurance, organic certification cost share, farmers market promotion, and rural development initiatives. But how does the USDA support women farmers specifically?

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) is one such way. Although BFRDP doesn’t explicitly support just women farmers, data shows that the majority of beginning farmers in the United States are women. National Young Farmers Coalition’s National Young Farmer Survey reports that 60% of the 3,517 young farmers (40 years old or younger) they surveyed identified as female. This statistic demonstrates how BFRDP, although designed to assist beginning farmers, in practice, aids many female farmers.

So, what exactly is BFRDP and what does it do? BFRDP, a grant administered by the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), provides financial support to individuals who have been farming or ranching for 10 or fewer years. The USDA awards grants to cooperative extension service, community-based and nongovernmental organizations, and colleges and universities.

Though all farmers face challenges, the USDA has identified issues that especially affect beginning farmers, including “capital access, land access, and access to knowledge and information.” The goal of BFRDP is to address these issues by educating farmers and farm families on business management, production, and marketing.

The goals of the program are to increase the number of beginning farmers and ranchers in the United States and help those farms become more sustainable and economically viable in the long term.

The impact of BFRDP on beginning female farmers is evident in the projects that it funds.  For example, the University of Vermont was awarded money for their project titled “21st Century Management: Enhancing Educational Programming for Beginning Women Farmers.” The University of Vermont sought to create a “central repository” for the educational resources pertaining for beginning women farmers, as well as a “typology” to help them determine which materials to use.

Additionally, the Women Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) was awarded funding for their project: Growing New Women Farmers in Iowa and Nebraska Through Networking, Mentorships and Business Planning. WFAN’s goal was to increase the number of beginning female farmers running small-scale diversified farms in Iowa and Nebraska. They did so through supporting women’s access to networking events, mentorships (both on and off the farm), and business planning workshops.

For more information about BFRDP and the projects that it funds, check out their website

Like what you’ve read? Join the conversation in the NFU Women in Agriculture Facebook group.