By Roger Johnson, president, National Farmers Union

The demographics of American agriculture tell it all. Fully 57 percent of the nation’s 3.2 million farmers are within 10 years of retirement age or older, according to the 2012 Ag Census. That means agriculture will see a huge transition in the next decade or so, as retiring farmers and ranchers turn over the reigns to new and beginning farmers.

Thankfully, the number of young farmers is trending upwards. In fact, the number of young people who said farming was their primary occupation increased by 11 percent between 2007 and 2012.

Clearly, managing a farm today requires a wide range of skills and proper training. Farmers and ranchers must be good businesspeople, bookkeepers, market analysts, salespeople, mechanics, environmentalists, and the list goes on and on. That’s why Nationla Farmers Union started its Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) program – to provide tomorrow’s agricultural leaders with the precise skill set they will need to succeed on the farming operations they will soon be running.

BFI is welcome to farmers of all production types who are new to farming or are contemplating a career in farming or ranching. More than 50 beginning farmers have graduated from the institute, and sign-ups for the 2017 class are due by March 30, 2016.

BFI participants receive hands-on training by experts from across the U.S. The training includes critical skills needed by beginning farmers and ranchers, including business plan writing, financial planning, and leadership development. The program also includes tours of local farms and cooperatives. Throughout the training there are many opportunities for program participants to network with successful producers as well.

BFI was created – with support from CHS Foundation, Farm Credit and the FUI Foundation – as a way to support talented young people in agriculture and combat the rapidly aging farmer population by giving beginning farmers educational tools for success.

We’re confident that graduates will enter their role as principal farm operators with the training they need to succeed while also building an invaluable network of peers from coast to coast.

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