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US: Legislators focus on beginning farmers

A bipartisan coalition led by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) of 2017. This bill will ensure that the 2018 Farm Bill focuses on the future of American agriculture by driving investment toward programs and policies that create opportunities for the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), one of the bill’s leading non-profit partners, praised the bipartisan coalition for addressing one of agriculture’s most pressing issues – the dwindling number of producers with the resources and skills to support our nation’s food, fuel, and fiber needs.

Beginning farmer, D’Quinton Robertson, working on Lehman Farms in Polk City, Iowa. Photo credit: USDA.

“To keep our agricultural economy strong, the next farm bill needs to facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and land between current and future generations of family farmers,” said Juli Obudzinski, NSAC Deputy Policy Director. “The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act lays out a national strategy that breaks down barriers to entry and gives real support to the next generation. This legislation addresses the critical issues new and aspiring farmers are struggling with every day: accessing land, building skills, managing risk, and ensuring the sustainability of their operations by effectively managing and protecting natural resources.”

Nearly 100 million acres of farmland (enough to support nearly 250,000 family farms) is set to change hands over the next five years – during the course of our next farm bill. While some retiring farmers and ranchers will be passing on their land and operations to their children or other relatives, many are heading toward retirement without a succession plan in place.

"The average age of today's farmer is 60 years old, and many folks are preparing to retire without someone lined up to take their place,” said Aaron Johnson, owner/operator of Johnson Organic Farms in Madison, South Dakota and a member of Dakota Rural Action. “It's not that those wanting to farm or ranch have a lack of desire, but they lack the guidance and support to get started. The next generation of farmers and ranchers need as much education and assistance as they can get to become established and help to ensure our food security in America. Growing up on the family farm taught me how to raise a crop, but it was the training I got through a beginning farmer program that taught me all the other skills I needed to succeed, things it would have taken decades to master otherwise.”

In order to keep the US farm economy strong and vibrant, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act:
  • Expands access to farmland by increasing the flexibility and effectiveness of land-link programs and protecting farmland affordability
  • Ensures equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance
  • Encourages commitment to conservation and stewardship across generations
BFROA also empowers new producers with the skills they need to succeed by securing permanent funding for new farmer training, expanding support for farm transfer and succession planning, and launching a new asset-building financial literacy initiative.

"As veterans transition from military service, they are looking for careers that allow them to continue to serve their communities in meaningful ways,” said Adam Ingrao, owner/operator of Bee Wise Farms in Lansing, Michigan and board member of Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS). “Farming is a career path that meets veterans’ desire to continue being of service, and allows them to apply the skill sets and work ethic acquired in the military to their new careers. Many veterans, however, have little to no previous experience working in agriculture. In Michigan, the Veterans in Agriculture Network (VIA) has relied heavily on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Section 2501 Program to fund education and direct outreach services that train veterans to become the next generation of farmers. Without these education and outreach programs, veterans – and other aspiring farmers – around the country would have a much more difficult time entering careers in agriculture and the industry would miss out on a highly skilled and talented workforce."

NSAC applauds Representatives Walz and Fortenberry for supporting aspiring, beginning, and veteran farmers and ranchers with this much-needed legislation, and strongly supports its inclusion in the 2018 Farm Bill. NSAC also extends our thanks to Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and Ryan Costello (R-PA), who last week introduced complementary legislation aimed at addressing the unique challenges faced by young farmers. Representatives Maloney and Costello's bill, The Young and Beginning Farmers Act, includes policies to protect farmland, improve access to programs that assist young farmers, and support local and regional food systems. The lead non-profit partner for this legislation is the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), an NSAC member.

More information on BFROA, including a summary and detailed outline, is available on the NSAC website.
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