Why Are You Seeking Out Farm Training?

2022 New Farmer Survey Results

— By Jonathan Malacarne, Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Maine, and Christina Howard, Maine New Farmers Project Manager, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

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The “Why Are You Seeking Out Farm Training?” survey received 118 responses in the winter of 2022 from new and beginning farmers. According to the USDA, new and beginning farmers are people who have been farming for less than 10 years. The responses came from every county in Maine (Figure 1, below). There were responses from every adult age bracket with the highest percentage (25%) in the 35-44 range. 71 percent of the respondents self-identified as women, 15% were veterans or in active military service, 71% self-identified as white, and 16% self-identified as having a disability. UMaine Extension educators will use the survey results to design farm trainings. These trainings will be based on the interests and needs of new and beginning farmers.

The funding for this survey is from the USDA-NIFA grant that funds the Maine New Farmers Project (MNFP). The goals of MNFP include teaching farm production and farm business practices to new farmers. The target is to reach underserved populations in Maine, specifically women, and veterans.

As part of the survey, new farmers identified their current roles in Maine agriculture. They also shared their short-term (1–4 years) and long-term (5–10 years) goals (Figure 2, above). Most people responded that they are already working in agriculture and have recently started farms. Many of those farmers are planning to diversify their farm businesses over the next 10 years. A smaller number of new farmers are not yet involved in agriculture but are interested in starting farms in the short or long term. This information is useful for understanding the goals of new farmers who responded to the survey. It also is useful to show who did not respond to the survey. For example, we did not hear from many people who were currently working on farms that they do not own. We also didn’t hear from people who hope to work on, but not own, farms in the longer term. When asked to choose their top 5 interests, respondents showed interest in growing vegetables (61 responses), small fruit and berries (56 responses), tree fruit (48 responses), forestry (38 responses), goats/sheep (30 responses), poultry (32 responses), hay/forage (28 responses), ornamentals (25 responses), swine (19 responses), beef (18 responses), and dairy (11 responses) and aquaculture (5 responses).

The survey asked new farmers how they see and are affected by the challenges and opportunities facing Maine agriculture. They were also asked to choose topics they want to be trained on. UMaine Extension educators will use this information to design production, sales, and management training sessions that will interest new and beginning farmers.

Figure 3 (below) shows that production risk and the cost of inputs and labor are the top challenges facing Maine agriculture in general. Consumer demand for and willingness to pay for traits such as “local” and “organic” and value-added products to capture a greater share of the food dollar are seen as the greatest opportunities.

Figure 4 (below) shows that collaborative marketing, online sales, and farm stands are the top three sales and management training needs mentioned. How to obtain financing, improve bookkeeping, and set business goals are tops among the business management training interests of survey respondents.

New farmers want different production trainings depending on what they produce (or want to produce) on their farms. Because the new farmers could select multiple areas of interest, they tended to pick similar ones. For example, if they grow or want to grow vegetables, they often picked Diseases/Insects/Weeds as well as Soil Science. Therefore, five groups emerged:

The remaining topics (Forestry, Ornamentals, Aquaculture) were not strongly associated with a group. The following figures detail each group’s choices of what training topics they need.

Group 1: Vegetables, Diseases/Insects/Weeds, and Soil Science


Group 2: Tree Fruit and Small Fruit/Berries

Group 3: Swine and Dairy

Group 4: Poultry and Goats/Sheep

Group 5: Beef and Hay/Forage


The “Why Are You Seeking Out Farm Training?” survey results provide a useful first step toward designing trainings to meet the needs of new farmers in Maine. They highlight areas of common interest and point toward what new farmers need for production training and sales/marketing and business management training. Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey. We look forward to continuing to improve our support for new and beginning farmers.

This work is supported by the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program [grant no. 2021-70033-35716] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.