March 18, 2022

Contact: Lyndsey Medsker, (202) 557-5328

WASHINGTON – To support the next generation of American agriculture, National Farmers Union (NFU) today announced the eleven participants selected for its eleventh Beginning Farmer Institute (BFI) cohort. Over the course of nine months, attendees will participate in four sessions focused on technical training, mentorship, and leadership development.

Established in 2011, BFI was created to help address concerns about the rapidly aging farm population. According to the most recent Census of Agriculture, farmers older than 65 outnumber those younger than 35 by more than six to one, raising serious questions about who will be operating America’s farms in the coming decades.

“Each year, as an older generation of farmers retires, a significant amount of farmland changes hands,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “These changes impact the future of our rural communities and our nation’s food supply. With BFI, we want to support our young farmers and ensure they are prepared and ready to take over when it is their time.”

This scarcity of young and beginning farmers is not due to a lack of interest – rather, it is due to immense barriers to entry, including the difficulty of land acquisition, high upfront costs, and a shortage of educational opportunities. In the recent years, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change have only added to these challenges, making programs like BFI even more crucial.

“Getting started in agriculture can be overwhelming and there can be a great deal of uncertainty,” Larew noted. “By focusing on issues most relevant to today’s farmers, BFI prepares new farmers to get their operations off the ground and run them successfully for years to come.”

During the program’s hands-on training sessions, participants will gain practical skills to overcome any hurdles they may face, including business planning, accounting, insurance, and labor management. The program will employ the Farm and Ranch Business Health Assessment, a tool used to help farmers set goals for strengthening their business.

In addition to an aging population, agriculture has another demographic challenge: gender imbalance. Though it has improved gradually over time, women and nonbinary farmers continue to be underrepresented and underserved: in 2017, only 36 percent of producers identified as female. An early supporter of women’s suffrage, NFU has been working to overcome this gender disparity for the duration of its 120-year existence through its educational programming and policy priorities. BFI has been a key part of those endeavors, with women accounting for more than 62 percent of the program’s 143 graduates.

The farmers selected to participate in the 2022-2023 Beginning Farmer Institute are:

  • Ariel Zakarison, WA
  • Brandon Runge, IL
  • Dolores Miller, OR
  • Elisana Judovsky, MN
  • Kellie Parker, TX
  • Matthew Torgesen, ID
  • Ray Mooney, CT
  • Sara Mayer, CO
  • Sara Thornton, MI
  • Taylor Muglia, CO
  • Tyrean Lewis, MO

NFU Foundation has continued to grow BFI through the generous support of CHS Foundation, Farm Credit, and Farmers Union Industries Foundation. More information about BFI is available here.


About NFU
National Farmers Union advocates on behalf of nearly 200,000 American farm families and their communities. We envision a world in which farm families and their communities are respected, valued, and enjoy economic prosperity and social justice.

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