Central Wyoming College has been awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Beginning Farmer Rancher Development Program to launch the Wind River Farm Business Incubator: Building the Capacity of Beginning Farmers project in Central Wyoming. The grant was awarded Sept. 1, 2020.
The USDA-NIFA announced in September grant investments of more than $53 million across three unique programs for U.S. farmers, ranchers, and military veterans to support American agriculture.
“Agriculture offers promising career opportunities, particularly in farming and ranching,” said Parag Chitnis, acting NIFA director. “Federal investments in programs that help new farmers get into the business, support military veterans who are considering farming and ranching as a new career, and address serious stress-related mental health issues among farmers, are critical to ensuring our next generation of food producers are able to successfully meet the challenges facing agriculture.”
While there are many excellent opportunities in agriculture, beginning farmers and ranchers have unique needs for education, training, and technical assistance. For those within their first 10 years of operation, it’s vital they have access to capital, land, and knowledge and information to help improve their operations’ profitability and sustainability. USDA-NIFA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program awarded more than $16.7 million in 48 projects to deliver the support new farmers and ranchers need.
CWC is the recipient of a two-year grant under the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. Joanne Slingerland, CWC-Lander director, and Melissa Hempken, CWC-Foundation director of government and foundation relations, knew this grant would align with the Wind River Farm Business Incubator project. The two worked together to apply for the grant.
“We pursued this grant because there is a need for training for aspiring and beginning farmers and we had the location to provide such training, the Alpine Science Institute,” Slingerland said.
A CWC survey conducted in 2019identified the top three needs for successful beginning farmers as access to credit and financing, farmland and pastureland available to rent or purchase, and business plan assistance. Beginning farmers indicated marketing assistance as a strong need as well. Nationally, and in Wyoming, the average age of farmers is 57 and many farmers will be retiring over the next decade, Slingerland said.
“The number of farms and new/beginning farmers is declining. New farmers are less likely than established farmers to come from a farm background and lack basic farm knowledge they otherwise would have acquired from their families. With the increasing demand for locally produced food, CWC saw an opportunity to provide technical education, access to land and equipment, farm business training and marketing to beginning farmers.”Joanne Slingerland, CWC-Lander director
Through this grant, CWC will launch the Wind River Farm Business Incubator and farmer training program in the spring of 2021 at the Alpine Science Institute. This program will provide workforce development through hands-on training and support of beginning farm entrepreneurs.
“Our students, aspiring and beginning farmers, gain farming skills through a hands-on crop production practicum focusing on small-scale, high elevation, regenerative and organic farming practices,” said Joanne Slingerland, CWC-Lander director and project director.“The business of farming will be taught through a comprehensive farm business course and students will come away with a farm business plan reflecting their own goals.”
Once students complete the training, they can enter the farm incubator on-site where they will have access to land, water, farm infrastructure, equipment and marketing outlets, and mentoring at below-market rates. These new farmers will be able to stay on the incubator for up to five years as they build a successful business.
This grant will fund a full-time position of farm manager/instructor, materials and supplies to develop a quarter-acre teaching garden, farm technical and business curriculum development, travel expenses and a subward to Blue Mountain Associates Inc. of Ft. Washakie to assist in the recruitment and support of Native American/American Indian participants.
CWC is seeking aspiring farmers to join the first training cohort. To find out more information and to learn how you can become part of this exciting new program, visit www.cwc.edu/farmincubator or call CWC Lander at (307) 855-2330.