Young Farmer Mentorship Program debuts at Iowa Ag Summit

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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue was in town for the 2017 Iowa Ag Summit, and he wants to get new resources for new and beginning farmers. Saying shepherding one generation to the next is a joint responsibility.

Starting out, farmers need land, equipment, and access to loans. But they also need advice and guidance.

At the summit, Perdue signed a Memorandum of Understanding with leaders from SCORE, the nation's largest volunteer network of expert business mentors. SCORE matches business professionals with new business owners to help support them.

Perdue says mentorship will help young farmers figure out a budget and what they can afford so they can come in prepared for a tough industry, "Sometimes, the best answer may be, 'Don't try, don't do it.' And just like a good banker will tell you sometimes, 'You don't need to be doing that.' These mentors can help these aspiring farmers who are enthusiastic and they're idealistic sometimes and it brings them back to reality. So, it can make them better producers, by the fact of having them be better business people."

Perdue says that will also help the USDA become better lenders in FSA.

The SCORE and USDA joint initiative will use nearly 10,000 existing volunteers along with USDA's expertise to bring no-cost business mentoring.

At a roundtable discussion with Iowa leaders and farmers on the need for mentorship, Jason Grimm, a farmer in Waynesburg, Iowa, wants to help link new farmers with experienced business owners.

He says, "Growing the crop is definitely the first step but if you're in diversified agriculture, you're a marketer too, you're a salesperson for your farm. So it's important to build those networks off the farm."

Young farmers still have a rough road, 19-year old D'Quinton Robertson was at the roundtable and is just getting started. His grandparents own a farm but he sees a huge disconnect between those in agriculture and those not.

He thinks a lot of non-farmer rural or inter-city kids would be interested in getting into agriculture if they understood it's much more than just working dirt.

Robertson says, "Just bring us kids in, you know, just teach us what you know, and if you know people that we can get in contact with to learn more, give us that opportunity, give us that leeway give us that connection so we can learn more. That way we can teach others to help this process go."

Perdue and the USDA are asking for volunteer mentors. If you're interested, you can check out: https://newfarmers.usda.gov/mentorship