The National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) presented an award for excellence to Penn State Extension Educators for “Supporting Pennsylvania Farmers in the Start-Up, Re-strategizing and Establishing Years.”

Lee Stivers gave a presentation on the project at the NACAA Annual Conference and accepted the award on behalf of the team, that also included Tara Baugher, Marley Cassidy, Megan Chawner, Bob Pollock, Lynn Kime, John Esslinger, and Patty Neiner.

This project was designed to increase the number and success of beginning farmers in Pennsylvania. Funded by USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant, the project ran from 1/2015 through 10/2017. The focus was on new farmers in years 2 to 10 who are establishing their businesses.

Leading Pennsylvania's economy with $7.4 billion in sales each year, Pennsylvania's future depends on agriculture. Yet, the farming population is aging, and 16,000 Pennsylvania farmers are projected to retire in the next ten years. This project was designed to increase the number and success of beginning farmers in Pennsylvania, particularly those in years 2 to 10, and ran from January, 2015 through October, 2017.

The project focused on four main components. Seven on-farm demonstrations provided living classrooms where new farmers experienced and learned cutting-edge best management practices in the context of working farms. Six study circle learning networks provided opportunities for new farmers and educators to learn from each other and from on-farm demonstrations. New Commercial Fruit Grower courses provided new producers with in-depth knowledge on starting a fruit business. Additional study circle networks provided support specific to the needs and learning preferences of women and Hispanic/Latino farmers. Information gathered and demonstrated through model plots and study circles was used to create new farmer-specific educational materials and reach a national community of new farmers.

Based on survey responses, as a result of participating in this program, 52 people started farming; 248 received assistance in starting to farm; and 454 improved their farming success. Seventy-one study circles were held for 702 establishing farmers; 70% of study circle participants who completed post-program surveys (n=454) said they planned to adopt a new practice; and 88% increased their knowledge in areas that would increase profitability. 254 female farmers and 107 Hispanic/Latino growers participated in study circles established for these underserved audiences. Seventy-three farmers participating in at least one component of the program indicated that they had adopted best management practices for sustainable horticultural production.