AMERICAN SOLDIER TO AMERICAN FARMER: HOW MANY OF OUR NATION'S VETERANS TRANSITION TO LIFE IN AGRICULTURE
According to USDA research, the average age of farmers is in the upper 50s and has been rising for years. New, younger farmers are being discouraged from joining the industry because of lack of sufficient government/public support, as well as mounting attacks against agriculture from special interest groups.
As numbers decrease and the U.S. population increases, there has never been a more vital time to find solutions to this glaring problem. Unfortunately, public support and defense from attacks are issues that aren’t easily solved in the near future. We will continue to address them, but more immediate solutions must be found in order to fill the ranks.
One segment of society that has not yet been fully explored is U.S. military veterans. These individuals return home after fulfilling their service, and look to enter the workforce. For many, this can be challenging. Agriculture can be an excellent fit for those who don’t already have a career in mind for civilian life.
Farming and ranching is a different industry that allows them to continue serving America in an important way. As NPR reports, programs are sprouting up all over the country to encourage and help veterans become involved in agriculture. Pamela Hess, executive director of the Arcadia (Virginia) Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, says that veterans and farm life are a perfect match. Because farming requires constant improvisation, problem-solving and initiative, it suits the veterans' skill set:
“So many of them are looking for really meaningful work where effort in equals success out. So many of them - especially the combat folks, they're outdoor cats now. They've spent 10 years outside, and they do not want to be wearing a tie and sitting in a cubicle and taking orders from someone.”
The USDA provides outreach to these veterans, giving them financial and resource management training in order to assist them in starting or continuing farming and ranching operations. One of the benefits of the 2014 Farm Bill is that it grants the USDA with designated funds for loans to veterans to purchase land, farm equipment, and livestock. This money can even be used to help them receive extra payments to implement conservation practices on their land.
Other non-federal programs that assist veterans with this specific industry include the Farmer-Veteran Coalition, Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots, Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training, BeginningFarmers.org, Armed to Farm (ATF), and many more available through a simple internet search.
These efforts don’t equate to handouts. Farming and ranching are expensive and arduous tasks that require hard work and dedication, something that comes as second nature to our nation’s veterans. These programs are meant to be a push in the right direction that helps bolster agriculture while simultaneously giving these individuals a valuable purpose in their lives post-service.
For those veterans contemplating a career in agriculture, we strongly urge you to check out these programs available to you. We thank all our nation’s veterans for their sacrifices, and we thank all those involved in agriculture for their service as well.