Victory in Colorado! Bipartisan Apprenticeship Bill Becomes Law

Over the last year, NYFC chapters and members across Colorado testified, authored op-eds, met legislators in Denver, and brought legislators out to the farm to talk about the importance of supporting beginning farmer education through apprenticeships. SB18-042, a bipartisan effort to create an Agricultural Workforce Development Program is the result of their efforts. 

Today, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper traveled to Durango, CO to sign SB18-042 into law.

The bipartisan legislation passed unanimously from the first-ever Colorado Young and Beginning Farmer Interim Study Committee, established in 2017, before heading to the full General Assembly this session. The new program will reimburse qualified agricultural businesses up to 50% of the cost of hiring a farm apprentice, helping existing farmers and ranchers stay in production while allowing young farmers and ranchers to gain better access to land, equipment, and mentorship in Colorado.

If Colorado wants to save family farms, we need to find ways for young and beginning farmers to be farmers,” said Representative Marc Catlin (R-Montrose), one of the prime bill sponsors in the House. “This bill will help start that conversation.”

“Our agricultural lands are an essential part of the fabric of Colorado, and we must do what we can to keep them viable and productive,” said Representative Barbara McLachlan (D-Durango), the bill’s other prime sponsor in the House. “Young and beginning farmers represent our future, our environment, and our economy.” In the Senate, the bill was championed by prime sponsors Sens. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa).

This bill comes at a critical moment for Colorado agriculture, which is reflective of national trends. The average age of farmers in the state is 59, higher than the national average. Sixty-four percent of Colorado producers will exit farming over the next two decades, and over 20 million acres, or 63% of Colorado’s agricultural land, will need a new farmer. But there are not enough young farmers to take over: Colorado farmers over 55 outnumber farmers under 35 by twelve-to-one. Ensuring that young farmers and ranchers have access to land and mentorship is critical to the future of agriculture in Colorado.  

Reps. Catlin and McLachlan attended Thursday’s bill signing. Joining them were dozens of local farmer and rancher leaders from the Four Corners Farmers and Ranchers Coalition, a joint chapter of NYFC and the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, as well as members of FFA and the Old Fort Lewis Farmer Incubator Program.

So many organizations, individuals, and legislators rallied behind young farmers in this effort over the last year, showing that support for the next generation of farmers and ranchers is here. Let’s keep it going.

House farm bill makes key land access investments, but misses big opportunities

NYFC policy staff continues to dig into the House farm bill, H.R. 2. Read our previous posts on the overall analysis of the bill, as well as its potential impact for young farmers in the West.

Across the country, climbing land prices have made it increasingly difficult for farmers to afford land. The challenge of land access for young farmers is so widespread and acute, in fact, that NYFC has an entire team dedicated to it. The farm bill, reauthorized by Congress every five years, can help, or hinder, young farmers’ ability to access land.

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee voted its draft of the 2018 farm bill, H.R. 2, out of Committee on a strictly party-line vote. As the bill heads to debate before the full House, NYFC’s land access team breaks down what its impact might be on farmland access for young farmers.

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House Farm Bill Will Cost Young Farmers, Organic, and Conservation

At long last, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX) introduced his draft of the 2018 Farm Bill on Thursday. And we’ve got work to do.

The bill maintains important provisions for beginning farmers, such as the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, but it would phase out programs that are critical to young farmers, compromise farmland conservation, and hurt the consumer safety net.

The next step in the farm bill process is the agriculture committee markup next Wednesday. Between now and then, we need you to raise your voice and tell Republicans and Democrats what amendments and fixes are needed to get this bill into shape. Moving forward, here’s the good, the bad, and what you can do to help.

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Finding Farmland: Upgrade Released

If you have been using NYFC’s Finding Farmland site, get ready for a big upgrade to the Land Affordability Calculator. And if you haven’t—try out the new version now!

A decision-making tool designed specifically for farmers seeking land, the Finding Farmland Calculator makes it easy for farmers to understand and compare farm financing options, determine what they can afford, and prepare to work with a loan officer. Since our beta release in October, we have consulted dozens of farmers and service providers to identify improvements to the calculator. We are excited to now release the new-and-improved version.

The calculator allows you to build your own land purchase scenarios using conventional financing options, like bank loans, or with other farmland access strategies, such as conservation easements and lease-to-own deals. Compare financing options to determine how best to afford farmland, or stack up one property against another. Once you build a scenario, enter some financial information to determine how affordable the property is for you and your business. Download your results to compare scenarios and share them with mentors and lenders. NYFC does not save any financial information entered into the tool.

We intend the Finding Farmland Calculator to serve you at any point in your search for land. If you’re just getting started, the site will introduce you to financial terms and options you should be familiar with. For those in the midst of a land search, rely on the calculator as a decision-making tool, helping you keep your property and financing options organized for easy comparison. Think of it as your own, personal loan officer.

We encourage agriculture educators to use the Finding Farmland Calculator, and the other educational tools on the Finding Farmland site, in their business planning programs. More educational resources for land-seekers or service providers, and help documents for the calculator, are available at our Finding Farmland Calculator resources page.

Don’t forget to rate the tool to let us know what you think, and sign up for NYFC’s email list to receive updates on our work! Contact findingfarmland@youngfarmers.org with any questions or suggestions.

 


THIS PROJECT IS SUPPORTED BY A GRANT FROM THE USDA NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE THROUGH ITS BEGINNING FARMER AND RANCHER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM.

THE LAND AFFORDABILITY CALCULATOR WAS DEVELOPED WITH FATHOM INFORMATION DESIGN, A BOSTON-BASED DATA VISUALIZATION STUDIO.

On the County Line

Eva Moss farms in North Carolina on the line between a solidly red county and a solidly blue county. Photo credit: Lea Ciceraro

By Eva Moss

Last January, I began leasing 16 acres of historical farmland along Highway 64, just outside the town of Staley in Randolph County—“the heart of North Carolina”—a few seconds west of the Chatham County line. When I walk out to get the mail at the top of my driveway, I look left and can just see the tip of the sign that reads “Chatham County,” as I send up a prayer that the cars rushing along the highway won’t nip me.  (more…)

Finding and Funding Your Farm

By Michael Durante, Land Access Program Associate

A thin line separates opportunity from crisis in America’s agricultural economy. Farmers over the age of 65 now outnumber farmers under 35 by a margin of six to one, and U.S. farmland is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), nearly two-thirds of farmland is currently managed by someone over 55. Yet young Americans continue entering agriculture despite the odds. For only the second time in the last century, the 2012 Census of Agriculture registered an increase over the previous census in the number of farmers under 35 years old.

The demographics suggest that finding farmland should be easier now than ever, and indeed the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that over the next five years, nearly 100 million acres of U.S. farmland are expected to change ownership. But beginning farmers consistently find that accessing land—particularly finding and affording land on a farm income—is the number one challenge they face. NYFC’s 2017 National Young Farmer Survey found that 75 percent of young farmers did not grow up on a farm. First generation farmers have particular difficulty building the collateral necessary to qualify for financing while renting land, earning low pay as farm workers, or paying back student loans.

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Sustainable farming depends on sustaining farmers

By Mai Nguyen

I am writing in the aftermath of the Tubbs and Mendocino Lake Complex fires that devastated my farm community. To remain optimistic, I think of what I’m grateful for. In this context, I’m honored that the National Young Farmers Coalition invited me to share my farming experiences and reflections, and I appreciate King Arthur Flour’s support of this project. I thank you, the reader, for taking interest in the lives of young grain farmers. Andrew, Halee, and John have inspired me with their different approaches and techniques, and I wish them great success. We should all be able to enjoy responsibly-grown food while living in a cared-for environment.

But collective success requires collective action. It took community cooperation to nourish and shelter those displaced by the fire, and continued collaboration will be required for rebuilding homes and farms. We as a society must work together to address farming’s broader challenges.

The primary challenge is compensation.

Sustainable farming depends first on our ability to sustain farmers. Our country has never equitably compensated farm labor, and has too often worked actively against it. We haven’t invested in the human and environmental health conditions for safe farming and eating. Is it a wonder, then, why young people don’t remain in or take up farm work? (more…)

Why I’m not giving up, despite a harvest from hell

In the midst of what Andrew came to think of as “#hellharvest17.”

By Andrew Barsness

With this being my final blog post for this series, I thought that I might reflect on my season and share some of my thoughts about the future of both my farm and agriculture in general.

This year’s harvest season has been very difficult for most grain farmers here in Minnesota, myself included. It’s been a constant battle against the weather. My harvest has been dragging on for over a month longer than any of my previous seasons, and now it’s a race to get the crop off of the field before a major snowfall.

As I look back on this season I can pick out a number of ups and downs, which is generally how farming and life itself tends to go. The weather just didn’t want to cooperate this year. Excess rain delayed spring planting. Then when I finally finished planting, we slipped into a drought and went well over a month without any rain. Germination after planting was quite poor due to low soil moisture, and a quarter of the crop never germinated at all. Naturally, once it did rain it didn’t stop raining for weeks, creating weed control issues that persisted all season. I was also forced to replant 60 acres of wheat due to weed pressure. (more…)

NYFC’s 3rd Annual National Leadership Convergence

In early November, more than 80 young farmers, staff, and speakers from 26 states gathered at Old Town Farm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for NYFC’s 3rd annual National Leadership Convergence. Farmers from Georgia to Oregon, Minnesota to Arizona came together to sharpen their organizing and advocacy skills, strengthen their networks, and strategize together how to win a farm bill that supports all young farmers.  

Now is a critical moment for young farmers across the country to galvanize their voice as Congress negotiates the next farm bill. The farm bill affects nearly every aspect of food and agriculture in the U.S., from farm financing and beginning farmer education to farmland conservation and nutrition assistance. Convergence leaders returned to their home chapters—now 40 nationwide and growing—with tools for change and a national movement behind them.

Lindsey Lundsford of Tuskeegee, AL, and Eduardo Rivera of Minneapolis, MN.

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My one piece of advice to aspiring farmers

Planting buckwheat and clover with my dad.

By John Wepking, Meadowlark Organics and Bickford Organics 

I’ve never had a job so rooted in place as farming, and I’ve certainly never known a career that combined proactivity with futility so beautifully. For the most part, the calendar sets us, we don’t set our calendar. We always aim to cut first crop hay on the 15th of May, but as we get closer and closer to that date, we invariably surrender our best laid plans and spend the rest of the summer doing our best to keep up with the swirling clouds and make the best decisions we can along the way. Each year has its spectacular challenges, humbling setbacks, and plenty of room for improvement.

Now that the leaves are falling and a killing frost looms, we have our eye on the next season: winter. Perhaps in a few years, winter will become more of the reflective and expectant season it is intended to be, but for the next few years, I’m sure it will be as busy as any other season. This winter we have a daunting to-do list: fencing and treeline management; weaning calves; building our grain cleaning and processing facility; developing expertise in grain cleaning and dehulling and establishing a business around it; beginning to market our flour and grain to bakeries, restaurants, distillers and brewers in the region; and creating a grain and flour CSA to reach our own rural community (shameless plug: send an email to meadowlarkorganics@gmail.com, and we’ll be sure to keep you in the loop about how to get our flour). Oh, and we’re expecting our second child in February. (more…)