If you’ve ever gone to the opening day of your local farmers market only to find some of your favorite farmers aren’t in business anymore, you’re not alone.
As a board member of the Durango Farmers Market, and a farmer myself, I’ve seen high turnover in new and beginning farm operations. This is caused by many factors, especially a lack of education and training, and not enough affordable labor.
What we’re experiencing locally is true of agricultural communities across the country. American farmers are struggling like never before. They’re facing low commodity prices, high land prices and labor shortages. Plus, there aren’t enough new farmers ready to replace the ones who are retiring.
If we want to ensure the survival of our farms and ranches in Colorado, it is up to us to develop programs that will train and educate our next generation of agriculturists. We must create workforce development offerings that can help build the local, regional and national economies of the future.
Internships and apprenticeships are effective ways to start. Programs like these provide beginners with hands-on skills development and experience in farm and ranch business management. As I know from my own experience as a farm intern, this type of training builds greater understanding of farming, and encourages lasting connections. Most of the farming skills and practices I use today I learned from more experienced farmers. I still have many mentors who continue to teach me.
On my own farm, we use this style of learning by hosting several interns each summer. It’s deeply rewarding to pass on our knowledge in everything from production planning, planting, tending and harvesting, to record keeping and marketing.
Our goal is to help aspiring farmers get a realistic idea of the field. We want them to be able to make an informed decision about pursuing agriculture, a very challenging line of work.
Right now, Colorado has an opportunity to help new and beginning farmers and ranchers throughout the state. The “Colorado Agriculture Workforce Development Act” (Senate Bill 18-042) will help attract new people to agriculture and expand hands-on internship-style training for aspiring farmers and ranchers.
It will assist in offsetting wages, housing, education and other costs associated with farm and ranch internships, and give current farmers and ranchers the chance to take on more “labor in training.”
For prospective farmers and ranchers, the measure will allow them to access real-world agricultural training without additional costs.
The “Colorado Agriculture Workforce Development Act” will enable us to solidify our local and regional agricultural economies – and look forward to seeing our favorite farmers and ranchers thrive well into a long and prosperous future.
Tyler Hoyt is the owner of Green Table Farm in Mancos, president of the Durango Farmers Market and a Four Corners Farmers and Ranchers Coalition board member. Reach him at (208) 484-5604 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Four Corners Farmers and Ranchers Coalition is a joint chapter of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the National Young Farmers Coalition. Reach President Mike Nolan at (828) 319-5252 or email@example.com.