How knowledge deficit interventions fail to resolve beginning farmer challenges



Beginning farmer initiatives like the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), farm incubators, and small-scale marketing innovations offer new entrant farmers agricultural training, marketing and business assistance, and farmland loans. These programs align with alternative food movement goals to revitalize the anemic U.S. small farm sector and repopulate landscapes with socially and environmentally diversified farms. Yet even as these initiatives seek to support prospective farmers with tools for success through a knowledge dissemination model, they remain mostly individualistic and entrepreneurial measures that overlook structural barriers to productive and economic success within U.S. agriculture. Analysis of the BFRDP’s funding history and discourse reveals a “knowledge deficit” based program focused on the technical rather than the structural aspects of beginning farming. This is contrasted with qualitative analysis of beginning farmer experiences in California’s Central Coast region. The discrepancies between the farmer experiences and national structure of the BFRDP program ultimately reveal a policy mismatch between the needs of some beginning farmers and the programs intended to support them.


Land access Beginning farmers Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Knowledge deficit model Agricultural policy Land tenure 



Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program


Farm Service Agency


National Institute of Food and Agriculture


United States Department of Agriculture



The author wishes to acknowledge the precious time, insights, and opinions offered by farmers in the Central Coast. Staff from the Agricultural and Land-based training Association and Mika Maekawa from California Farmlink helped guide this research. Madaly Alcala provided support on the analysis of BFRDP programs. Rachel Perera aggregated USDA census and land tenure statistics. Manuscript feedback was generously offered by Hank Herrera and members of Kathryn De Master’s research group. Essential editing came from Patrick Baur, Lisa Kelley, and Alastair Iles. The arguments of this paper were improved by four anonymous reviewers and the editor, Harvey James. This work has been supported by the Berkeley Food Institute and the UCANR Graduate Students in Extension Program.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and ManagementUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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