Clay Blackburn is a 25-year-old Missouri farmer who works several part-time jobs to keep his cow/calf operation growing.

He currently leases 200 acres of land until he can build enough capital to buy.

“It’s tough for a young person to get started in farming,” said Blackburn. “Finding land is the most difficult thing, but I’m determined to eventually make this my full-time job.”

Blackburn’s experience mirrors that of many beginning farmers trying to get a foot in the door to owning and operating their own farm. Yet, data from the USDA’s Census of Agriculture and Agricultural Resource Management Surveys (ARMS) on beginning farmers and ranchers in the United States shows a steady decline over the past 20 years.

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS), between 1982 and 2007, the number of farmers who operated farms for less than 10 years declined along with the number of young principal operators.

The report stated that 16 percent of all principal operators were under the age of 35 in 1982, but by 2007 that number dropped to 5 percent.

“Beginning farmers are a key to twenty-first-century agriculture,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These new agricultural entrepreneurs are the cornerstone to a vibrant rural America and to the future of all agriculture.”

Vilsack has been a champion of bringing more young people into farming by providing low-interest loans (such as the recently announced microloan program) and transfer programs geared toward the younger generation to help obtain farmland and build up their operation.