Starting out: Legislation, state programs help new producers
When it comes to conservation and credit programs in the 2012 Farm Bill, beginning farmers and ranchers may soon have a leg up.
On Oct. 14, H.R. 3236, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Timothy Walz (D-Minn.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.). The bill has been referred to the House Ag Committee and the House Budget Committee, and now has eight cosponsors who have joined the legislation. On the Senate side, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) authored an identical bill and its introduction is expected soon.
The bill, which is intended for inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill, highlights federal programs that could help support economic opportunities for young and beginning farmers and ranchers. The two major emphases of the bill are conservation and credit programs, and it addresses many of the barriers that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, such as limited access to land and markets, hyper land price inflation and high input costs.
The legislation includes provisions that cut across six titles of the Farm Bill, including proposals that address conservation program set asides and incentives, access to credit, rural development, research and extension and access to crop insurance and risk management.
“This bill goes through a whole host of existing programs and prioritizes them to meet the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers,” says Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) Executive Vice President Jim Magagna. “In general, it’s a welcome piece of legislation, and it falls in line with our highest priority in Stock Growers, which is getting young people into agriculture.”
According to beginningfarmers.org, an online resource for farmers, researchers and policy makers, a central component of the bill is continued support for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which supports community-based organizations with beginning farmer training programs.
Since it was launched in 2009, demand for BFRDP has far outstripped resources available. In 2010 alone, 40 projects received a total of $18 million in BFRDP grants, while 117 applications were submitted that year, with a total funding request of approximately $65 million. In total, during the past three years the program has provided $54 million in grants to 105 projects in 48 states, including programs that assist with farm transition, provide technical assistance for beginning farmers, and offer financial and business training curriculum.
The bill came about as a result of collaboration among individuals and farmer advocacy organizations, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)and many NSAC member groups, including Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs and the National Young Farmers’ Coalition.
One of the specific proposals included in the Beginning Farmer bill is for Individual Development Accounts (IDA) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) Microloans. Passed in the 2008 Farm Bill but never appropriated to date, the IDA pilot program would support the establishment of matched savings accounts for beginning and socially disadvantaged producers, the proceeds of which may be used on capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including purchases of land, buildings, equipment or livestock. The program would be administered by FSA and would include 15 state pilot programs.
“Access to capital is the number one challenge for beginning farmers,” says National Young Farmers’ Coalition Director Lindsey Lusher Shute.
The bill would also reauthorize many existing conservation programs targeted at beginning farmers, such as the Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP), which provides incentives to retired or retiring farmers to rent or lease land expiring from CRP contracts to beginning farmers. The bill would also provide a priority for beginning farmers within FSA’s Conservation Loan program, which provides loans to producers to establish conservation practices and structures on their operation.
This legislation also includes provisions to strengthen USDA’s support for military veterans by adding a new grant priority for ag rehabilitation and vocational training programs for military veterans within the BFRDP.
Because the bill affects so many existing programs, Magagna says he’s not sure that WSGA would agree with all of them, but he says the vast majority look positive.
“Though we certainly support everything for beginning farmers and ranchers, we need to be a little sensitive to not target dollars to one group at the expense of others,” he cautions. “This bill does address and strengthen the loan programs through the Farm Service Agency, and that part is definitely welcome.”
Magagna says he doesn’t recall another bill that’s swept across the whole spectrum of existing Farm Bill programs to create a beginning farmer and rancher focus within each one.
In response to the bill, WSGA contacted Rep. Cynthia Lummis’s office to encourage her support as a cosponsor.
To track the status of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, visit Thomas.gov and search for the bill’s number. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.