By ANJANA SCHROEDER
Capital News Service
LANSING – Young farmers don’t always have the opportunity to buy or rent suitable land nor have the capital to acquire enough land to be profitable, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Educational programs help young farmers face these challenges.
Tom Nugent, director of field operations for Michigan Farm Bureau, said its Young Farmers program, started in 1935, is designed to give beginners a solid foundation for a future in farming.
The program consists of 18-35 year-olds but new farmers older than 35 are able to participate, Nugent said.
The USDA defines a young farmer as one with 10 years or less experience operating farms.
Ryan Vanderwal of Lake City went through Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer program and now owns his own dairy supply company, Star City IBA.
Vanderwal said he joined Farm Bureau because it was an organization that had a political voice for the agriculture industry.
Nugent also said family dynamics can be a challenge for some young farmers. He said, “Families need succession planning so they know who and how the family business will continue.”
The director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Jamie Clover Adams, said 97 percent of farming is family-owned.
For brothers Herb and Greg Herbruck, farming is what they grew up doing on the
Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch in Saranac. “Dad was a gifted and godly man who gave us a lot of opportunity and we learned we all liked working together.”
Not all five siblings chose to work for the family business, Herb said. The oldest brother, Stephen, is the president, Greg is the executive vice president and the youngest, Herb, is vice president of operations. “We have a very similar vision for how we want to do business and how much risk we want to take.”
The brothers said they can appreciate how hard it could be for a young person to say I want to go and start in the agriculture business. Farmers need “millions of dollars of start-up capital,” Greg said.
Herb said their experience on the farm and the reputation of Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch has really helped them succeed. “We grew up doing it. It was engrained in us. We do it now because it’s the only thing we know.”
Some young farmers might start producing crops for the large established farms.
Herbruck’s farm has an egg production contract for farmers who produce eggs for it. Through this contract, Herbruck’s provides supplies for egg handling, management training and support, marketing, technical training and more and the farmer produces eggs based on itsspecifications.
Rob Vanderzwagg of Hamilton raises chicks for Herbruck’s, about 10 percent of what he does.
Vanderzwagg said he used to work for a farmer down the street from him in high school and eventually bought his farm and expanded.
Nugent said some members of the Young Farmers program are already a part of their family operation but want to carve out their own niche. Others don’t have a family farm but want to be farm owners.
Nugent said the program offers benefits and resources young farmers need to create a business plan and take steps to owning their own farm.
Having a business plan is very important. If a young farmer is starting off and has a good business plan, Farm Credit lenders will give young farmers a loan, Nugent said, which can help them face the challenge of having enough capital to buy land.
Vanderwal said the program, “helped a lot with networking and knowing people within the agriculture industry.”
The program offers “networking opportunities with other young farmers who are going through the same struggles, opportunities to connect with the resources they need for their own business and create a business plan,” Nugent said.
By ANJANA SCHROEDER