By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst
Yesterday, USDA announced that they are doubling down on their commitment to new farmers. The Department is aiming to boost beginning farmer participation in their programs and services by focusing $5.6 billion of existing funding on these farmers over the next two years. It is exciting to see this commitment to beginning farmers as well as the clear, measurable goals that the Department has set for beginning farmer participation. We are hopeful this commitment will support the success of thousands of new farmers across the country.
In addition, USDA launched a brand new version of the New Farmers website. This site brings together information from across USDA, aimed at people exploring a career in farming. Anyone who has spent time searching for information on USDA’s website (and I am certainly in that camp) can tell you that resources are difficult to find. The redesign of the New Farmers website was launched to help new farmers navigate this maze. The new site makes a lot of progress towards meeting this goal.
Here are the five things about the website we are most excited about:
- Four Steps to Start Farming
USDA first conceived of the New Farmers website as a place to pull together information about all the programs and resources they offer for new farmers. Originally, they met this goal by offering a laundry list of everything USDA offers. On the new website, information is organized and much easier to find. They identify four steps to start farming, then they group information and resources in relation to each step.
- The Discovery Tool
There’s a new tool on the website to help users find resources specific to their farm. With the Discovery Tool, you can select the type of farm you want to run, how you intend to market your goods, and other specifics. The tool then matches this description against programs that might be relevant to you. USDA offers a lot of different programs to assist farmers, and we’re excited that this tool will help new farmers wade through them all.
- A Focus on Farms in Transition
Land access is a critical challenge for young farmers. We are excited to see a section of the website that focuses specifically on resources for transitioning farms. Some of these resources, like the Conservation Reserve Program’s Transition Incentives Program (CRP TIP), reward landowners who transition their farms directly to beginning farmers.
- Women in Ag
Comprising nearly a third of all farmers, women are critical to agriculture. Unfortunately, their role and leadership has not always been recognized. USDA is trying to change this with the new Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. You can find more resources and join the network on the New Farmers website.
- OUTER SPACE
Did you know that USDA has a partnership with NASA? It’s true! USDA is helping NASA grow food in space, and NASA is conducting research relevant to back-on-Earth agricultural production. The new website dedicates a page to this partnership, and—paired with other pages dedicated to innovation in agriculture—it is clear that USDA is making the case that ag is a relevant and fascinating career choice. I’m sold.
On Monday, farmer Emily Best was invited to testify at a Congressional hearing about the impact her student loan debt has on her ability to farm. As almost one million student borrowers prepare to receive their first student loan bills in November, United States Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) held a forum with college graduates and experts to discuss college affordability and the student debt crisis. They were joined at the forum by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
You can watch the full hearing here. Emily’s begins speaking at minute 33.
Here is an excerpt from Emily’s testimony:
I am an apprentice farmer at New Morning Farm, an organic vegetable farm located in south-central Pennsylvania. My student loans are one of the biggest barriers standing between me and starting my own farm. My student loan debt, combined with my low income typical of beginning farmers, prevent me from accessing the lines of credit I would need to start my own farm.
Starting a new farm is an expensive and risky endeavor. A farmer needs secure land tenure, equipment, seeds, and other capital intensive investments. I’d likely need an operating loan to cover these expenses until my crop grows. Only Farm Credit and USDA’s Farm Service Agency will loan to new farmers. But my negative net wealth essentially forecloses the option of Farm Credit, and the FSA will only loan as much as a farmer can afford to pay back each month. Student loan payments are income that cannot be leveraged for the necessary farm loan.
I’ve considered switching jobs just to pay off my loans, but I believe strongly in the value of my work, and so do my customers. Thousands of other young people are facing the same choice I am. They also must decide whether student loans are an unbearable burden on a career in farming. I’m worried that too many of them will leave farming as a result.
Emily did an amazing job explaining why our nation needs to go to bat for young farmers. Now she needs your help. Tell Congress you stand behind farmers like Emily and ask your Representative to support the Young Farmer Success Act:
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began finalizing the new food safety rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). NYFC and our partners have been working on these rules for the past few years, and together or coalition provided FDA with a lot of feedback about how the rules could be effective without creating an unreasonable burden for farmers. You can check out some of our past work here. It is exciting to see this process finally come to a close. It is also a bit nerve-wracking since the rules will impact farms and food handlers for years to come.
The first rules were released last month and cover Preventative Controls for Human and Animal Food. These rules, in general, cover businesses that process food rather than farms that grow produce. However, NFYC has been watching these rules carefully because many of our members store, aggregate, and process foods, particularly at food hubs and other multi-farm distribution sites. The FDA has greatly improved the rule since their original proposal, and fewer farmers will be impacted. (more…)
Last Wednesday farmers from six states converged on Washington, D.C. for a whirl-wind round of meetings on Capitol Hill and at USDA. The event, known as a “fly-in,” was organized by the National Young Farmers Coalition to give young farmers a chance to advocate in person for the #FarmingIsPublicService campaign, which asks Congress to add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The fly-in was made possible with support from Applegate, a natural and organic meat company dedicated to supporting farmers.
Farmers who participated in the fly-in include:
- Emily Eckhardt, livestock manager at Swallowtail Farm in Alachua, Florida.
- Lizz Wysocki, farm manager at Zilke Vegetable Farm in Milan, Michigan.
- Dustin Stein, owner of Stubborn Farm in Mancos, Colorado.
- Calvin Andersen, co-owner of Grow Local farm in Neenah, Wisconsin.
- Peter Stocks, who farms with his family on their eighth-generation farm in Dalton City, Illinois.
- Brittany Arrington and David Rodriguez, who operate Zajac Farm in Columbus, Pennsylvania, which has been in David’s family for more than 100 years.
Each of the farmers who participated have student loan debt that is impacting their ability to build successful farming careers. And they aren’t alone. A survey conducted by NYFC points to student loan debt as one of the key barriers contributing to a shortage of young farmers. Among NYFC survey respondents, 30% said their student loans were preventing or delaying them from making farming their career and 28% said student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their farm business.
Friends and supporters of local farming gathered earlier this month in Hinsdale, New Hampshire to celebrate the permanent protection of Wingate Farm.
Wingate Farm’s new owners are Olivia Pettengill and her brother James. In their second season growing, Olivia and her business partner, Susan Parke-Sutherland, raised 700 pastured laying hens, hundreds of broiler chickens, eight forest-raised pigs, and a variety of vegetables and flowers.
Until recently the 60-acre farm was jointly owned by sisters Carroll Pettengill and Alma Niemiller. In addition to transferring the land to the younger generation, the family conveyed an agricultural conservation easement to Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust. Language in the easement prevents the land from ever being split apart from the house and barns—protecting the whole farm.
An option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV) has also been placed on the land. These options are increasingly used to guarantee that protected farms stay in agricultural production and in the hands of working farmers. The option allows Mount Grace to ensure that a sale of the farm would be to a farmer at agricultural value. This is the first time an OPAV has been used to protect farmland in New Hampshire. Without this tool, farmers will continue—as is happening across the country—to get outbid by non-farmers, taking irreplaceable land out of farm production. (more…)
This past week, USDA announced two big changes coming to your local county office. First, USDA will be hiring five new staff members at the state level to coordinate new farmer programs for the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has pushed USDA to provide specialized expertise for new farmers, and this job description is exactly what we have been asking for. Second, USDA announced that it is expanding it’s Farm Storage Facility Loan program to cover a host of new products including dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, hops, and flowers. NYFC helped USDA expand this program to fruit and vegetable growers, laying the groundwork for this new expansion.
Here’s a little more information about both of these news items: (more…)
By Eric Hansen, NYFC Policy Analyst
Earlier this month, Congress reached a major milestone in its annual appropriations process, which funds the federal government. Both the relevant committees in the House and the Senate passed funding bills for the Department of Agriculture. These bills set spending levels for conservation programs and farm loans and include “policy riders” that alter Farm Bill programs.
The Appropriations Process
Each year, Congress must pass spending bills that fund the federal government. The government works on a fiscal calendar that begins on Oct 1st. This means Congress needs to pass new legislation before Sept 30th or face a government shutdown.
Congress divides government operations in 12 substantive areas—such as agriculture; interior and the environment; and defense—and writes one bill for each area. In both the House and the Senate, the agriculture bill is written by a small group of legislators who sit on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. These are often different legislators than those who wrote the Farm Bill.
Once the subcommittee writes the bill, it is considered by the full Appropriations Committee. So far this year, both the full Committees in the House and the Senate have approved their respective bills. Next, the bills should be up for a vote before the full House and Senate. Once amended and approved, the bills will be “conferenced” between the two chambers, and once a joint bill is approved it will go to the President for his signature.
What’s in and what’s out
While this year’s spending bills are by no means final, the Committee drafts provide a pretty clear picture of where things are headed. Overall, funding is down compared to last year. This was expected in a Republican-controlled Congress; however, it has made it harder to secure funding for new programs and initiatives.
There are a few bright spots in the bills: (more…)
Today NYFC released a new report, Farming Is Public Service: A Case for Adding Farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which shows that student loan debt is one of the key barriers preventing more would-be farmers and ranchers from entering agriculture.
- Only 6% of all U.S. farmers are under the age of 35. Between 2007 and 2012 America gained only 1,220 principal farm operators under 35. During the same period, the total number of principal farm operators dropped by more than 95,000.
- Survey respondents carried an average of $35,000 in student loans.
- 30% of survey respondents said their student loans are delaying or preventing them from farming.
- 28% of survey respondents say student loan pressure has prevented them from growing their business, and 20% of respondents report being unable to obtain credit because of their student loans.
“Farming is a capital-intensive career with slim margins,” said NYFC executive director and cofounder, Lindsey Lusher Shute. “Faced with student loan debt, many young people decide they can’t afford to farm. In other cases, the bank decides for them by denying them the credit they need for land, equipment, and operations.”
With thousands of American farmers nearing retirement (the average age of farmers is now 58), the U.S. needs at least 100,000 new farmers over the next two decades. This issue reaches beyond the farm and impacts rural economies because farmers are often the primary revenue generators and employers in rural areas.
According to Davon Goodwin, a 25-year-old farmer and veteran from North Carolina (pictured above), encouraging more young people to become career farmers is essential. “Farming is serving your community at the highest level,” said Goodwin. “Making sure families have access to healthy, local food is as important as being a police officer or a teacher.”
On June 1, legislation was introduced in Congress that would add farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), placing the profession of farming alongside careers such as nursing, teaching, and law enforcement that already qualify for the program. Through PSLF, professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments while serving in a qualifying public service career have the balance of their loans forgiven.
The bipartisan Young Farmer Success Act (H.R. 2590) was introduced by Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Rep. Courtney (D-CT). Co-sponsors include Rep. Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Emmer (R-MN) and Rep. Lofgren (D-CA). The legislation has broad support from nearly 100 farming organizations, including National Farmers Union, FFA, and Farm Aid.
Interested in supporting the Young Farmer Success Act? Visit our Farming Is Public Service page to learn more and take action.
University of Maryland agriculture instructor Meredith Epstein loves teaching, but it isn’t the career she imagined for herself. Epstein doesn’t lack the skills, training, or talent for her chosen profession—farming—she simply can’t afford to invest in a farm of her own because she has student loan debt. The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would remove this barrier to business investment for Epstein and thousands of other young farmers like her.
The Young Farmer Success Act (House Bill 2590) was introduced on June 1, 2015 by Representative Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT). The bill seeks to address a major crisis facing American agriculture: Not enough young people are becoming farmers. As the majority of existing farmers near retirement (the average age of the American farmer is 58), we will need at least 100,000 new farmers to take their place. But between 2007 and 2012, the number of young farmers increased by only 1,220.
The Young Farmer Success Act of 2015 would incentivize farming as a career by adding farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, an existing program that currently includes professions such as government service, teaching, and nursing. Under the program, public service professionals who make 10 years of income-driven student loan payments would have the balance of their loans forgiven. (more…)
Farming is a tough business, and beginning farmers need hands-on experience and mentoring before they can successfully take on a commercial operation. Finding that experience and mentoring can be a significant challenge, and it’s at the heart of why Rogue Farm Corps (RFC) was created. The Oregon-based nonprofit was founded in 2003 by first generation organic farmers in their twenties and thirties who themselves had been mentored and considered it critical to their success. They noticed that many older farmers were retiring without anyone to take over their businesses, while young, inexperienced farmers didn’t know how to get started in commercial farming. RFC’s Executive Director Stu O’Neill says the organization was born from the desire to give beginning farmers access to mentors and in-field training. (more…)