Popularity of incubator farm programs help those interested in farming learn the basics

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POSTED: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 6:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 - 6:04am

Joe Rowland wrote a letter when he was ten, explaining why he wanted to be a farmer.

"You make your own schedule, you don't have to dress up and you get to work with crops and animals," said Rowland.

Today Rowland has left a corporate job and is making his dream come true with a program called incubator farming.

Incubator farming helps young farmers and plays into a bigger goal; the US Department of Agriculture says we need new farmers.

The American farmer is getting old, an average of almost 60.

The USDA has earmarked $18 million a year to help attract 100,000 new farmers.

"We would like to put a big sign on rural America saying 'open for business, we want you young America to come our way.'" said Kathleen Merrigan, USDA Deputy Secretary.

It's not the lack of interest, it's that young people don't have the startup money that is needed.

The USDA says the average income from a new farm in 2009 was minus $8,000.

Joe paid $240 a year to be part of this program and took an eight week course to learn farming basics, like planting, and also how to run a farm as a business.

Incubator farmers graduate to plots of land where they can practice the lessons of the classroom.

"Where does somebody test the waters when you need a $30,000 tractor and when a 30 acre property like this is in the millions of dollars in this area how do you tiptoe into something with so many upfront costs?," said Rowland.

"Everyone who eats should be caring about this problem of beginning farmers," said Merrigan.

Rowland is making a profit on the incubator farm and is signing a contract to buy an 18 acre farm.

The fact he will still be able to rely on the incubator project to loan him farm equipment and expertise will help him make that childhood dream come true.

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