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Nation's young farmers and ranchers get assistance

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- The country's next generation of farmers and ranchers may have a better chance at success with extra help that the federal government unveiled Monday.

U.S. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden visited the University of California, Davis, to announce a new website loaded with information for young farmers and ranchers. She explained policy shifts boosting disaster relief and fee waivers for agriculture's next generation.

Harden said she's focused on young farmers and ranchers because their average age is 58 and rising.

“We need to have folks entering agriculture and learning agriculture to help feed this country and others,” Harden said. “It's been the backbone of our economy for many generations.”

The newly created New Farmers website acts as a portal to resources offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to young farmers and ranchers. It includes information on loan assistance, risk management and educational opportunities. The website features success stories of farmers who have used USDA resources and expanded their business.

The policy shifts Harden announced are designed to give young farmers and ranchers financial stability. Made possible by passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, the government has waived fees for disaster assistance on crops that aren't eligible for insurance coverage.

Young farmers and ranchers will also be able to recoup up to 90 percent of the cost of their cattle and honeybees lost to disaster, Harden said. She added that she couldn't put a price tag on the programs because it remains to be seen who takes advantage of them.

Harden spoke to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Advisory Committee, 20-member panel made up of people from across the country active in the agriculture industry. She left the committee with a task, asking them to brainstorm and report back on more ways of supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

“It's helpful to have their ideas, to help us identify where we have gaps,” Harden said. “They're real-world. They're making a living. They're new farmers themselves.”

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