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How knowledge deficit interventions fail to resolve beginning farmer challenges

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. I use the term “Central Coast” to refer to the growing regions of Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties in California.

  2. The USDA Research, Extension, and Economics (USDA REA) budget is a rather small portion of the total USDA budget, which includes items like subsidies and crop insurance. In 2016, the USDA REA was less than 2% of the total USDA budget.

  3. The USDA BFRDP maintains a funding goal of 25% funding towards proposals that focus on underrepresented groups. My analysis shows that the BFRDP is meeting or exceeding that goal. There was tremendous diversity among the proposals in how grant writers identified these groups including veterans, women, youth, urban farmers, distinct ethnic groups, low-resource, refugees, etc.

Abbreviations

BFRDP:

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program

FSA:

Farm Service Agency

NIFA:

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

USDA:

United States Department of Agriculture

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Calo, A. How knowledge deficit interventions fail to resolve beginning farmer challenges. Agric Hum Values 35, 367–381 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-017-9832-6

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Keywords

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