FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 25, 2013Contact: lindsey(at)youngfarmers(dot)org
Republicans and Democrats Introduce New Bill To Aid Beginning Farmers
“Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013” addresses major barriers to starting a farming career
TIVOLI, NY – Today, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota announced the introduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The two identical bills expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.
In addition to the bill’s lead sponsors, the following members have signed on as original co-sponsors: Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) in the House, and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate.
“Short of jumping on a tractor, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 is the best way that members of Congress can help the nation’s young growers,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, Executive Director at the National Young Farmers Coalition. “The bill tackles the significant barriers to starting a farm in the US, including access to credit, land and training opportunities. NYFC urges Congress to include all of its provisions in the Farm Bill, and to pass a Farm Bill this year.”
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers. The bill reduces barriers, such as credit and land access issues, that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, and invests in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers capture more of the retail food dollar through value-added enterprises.
“With the average age of the U.S. farmer at 57, ensuring that the next generation of American farmers is able to provide the world with a safe, abundant supply of food should be a top priority,” said Congressman Walz, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry. “To accomplish this goal, we must provide our youth with the training and tools they need to seize opportunity and take up farms of their own. By easing access to lines of credit and land, and creating training programs for new producers, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act works to do just that.”
“As the House considers a five year Farm Bill this year, it is important we include provisions to encourage a new generation of New Yorkers to take up farming. This is both critical to maintaining the rural nature of our communities and ultimately is a national security issue as we need to have a robust domestic food supply. This bipartisan legislation will expand opportunities for those looking to take up farming and facilitate their entrance into the field. I applaud the National Young Farmers Coalition for bringing this issue to my attention originally, and look forward to continuing to work with my constituents to ensure we can get these initiatives included in the Farm Bill,” said Congressman Chris Gibson.
Some of the specific proposals in the bill include:
Expanded Credit Options
The bill would create a new microloan program that would make loans of up to $35,000 to young, beginning, and veteran farmers seeking capital to help cover start-up costs, such as purchasing seeds or building a greenhouse. The bill would also give new farmers increased flexibility in meeting loan eligibility requirements for FSA loans to purchase farmland. Finally, the bill would provide funding to jump start an Individual Development Account pilot program aimed at helping beginning farmers with limited financial resources to establish savings accounts that could later be used to cover capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including purchases of land, buildings, equipment, or livestock.
Access to Farmland
The legislation would help new and aspiring farmers access land to start or expand their farming operations by continuing and improving the successful Down Payment Loan Program, which provides much needed capital to new farmers seeking to purchase property. The bill would also modify the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program to give priority to preserving farmland that is accessible and affordable to new farmers.
New Farmer Training Programs
The bill would renew funding for the successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides grants to organizations and institutions to establish new farmer training programs. This program is the only federal initiative that is exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers.
This legislation invests in critical economic development programs, including the popular Value-Added Producer Grants program, which provides grants to farmers to scale up their businesses and add value to their products in order to meet surging consumer demand for high quality, farm-based, value-added food products such as farmstead cheese, salsa, and grass-fed beef.
Agricultural Opportunities for Veterans
The bill would also expand resources and create economic opportunities for military veterans interested in pursuing a career in agriculture by establishing a funding priority for new farmer training and agricultural rehabilitation programs specifically geared at returning veterans, and creating a new Veterans Agricultural Liaison within the USDA to help connect returning veterans with beginning farmer resources and assist them with program eligibility requirements for participation in farm bill programs.
National Young Farmers’ Coalition (NYFC) is national network of young and sustainable farmers organizing for our collective success: we’re defining the issues that beginning farmers face, fighting for the policy change that we need, and bringing farmers together in person and online to learn, share and build a stronger community. NYFC is a farmer-led partnership between young farmers and innovative beginning farmer service providers and is fiscally sponsored by the Open Space Institute, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
The halls of Congress heard ringing of cowboy boots and the stomping of mud-stained muck boots this past week as farmers from across the country descended on our nation’s capitol.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Young Farmers Coalition brought five beginning farmers from California, South Dakota, Colorado, and New York to Washington, DC to meet with Senators and Congresspeople to urge them to support beginning farmer programs in the next farm bill.
In all, over fifty farmers participated in the Farmer Fly-In, organized by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The Fly-In is an annual event, but this year had a particular emphasis, given the way that beginning farmer programs and many other helpful USDA provisions were left high and dry in January’s farm bill extension. Given that urgency, this year was also the largest fly-in ever, with about one hundred legislative visits taking place over the two days. Of those, NYFC’s crew organized and took part in sixteen meetings, ranging from left-leaning Democrats to tea-party-aligned Republicans.
Sometimes speaking with elected officials themselves and sometimes with their agricultural policy associates, meetings covered a large spectrum of topics, from personal stories about how specific programs were essential in the formation of a new business to practical discussions about the likelihood of different bills being able to pass. Legislators were selected for meetings based on their positions on the House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations Committees.
As many of the farmers new to political advocacy found, most elected officials took quickly to the beginning farmer message: that the government needs to ensure the next generation of farmers and ranchers receive the training and support they need. We shared stories about how USDA services like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program allowed for business training courses, how SARE grants helped fund grassroots technical innovation on the farm, and how the Conservation Stewardship Program helped farms become more sustainable while not breaking the bank.
This fly-in was just the start to the 2013 advocacy season. With sequestration making its impact known, with the debt ceiling debate coming up, and most importantly with the Farm Bill extension expiration looming ahead of us, there is plenty of work cut out for us. Get ready: in the coming months, we’ll be asking many of you to write letters, make phone calls, and come with us on in-person meetings, so please stay in touch and get ready to make history!
In fact, you can take action right now! Click the image to the right to learn more.
We want to give out a huge Thank You! to the intrepid young farmers who came from the four corners of the country to speak with Senators and Representatives earlier this week about the importance of beginning farmer programs in the USDA budget. (Stay tuned to the blog for a reportback on that adventure soon.)
Didn’t get a chance to be there, but want to get involved? Well you are in luck! News just came down the pipeline that the Senate is going to be voting on Monday on a general government budget (called a “Continuing Resolution, or C.R.”) that could also include funding for those amazing programs that were left high and dry in the New Years Eve farm bill extension. (Read more about the whole dirty mess that was the 2012 Farm Bill here.)
These include the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which funds countless training programs, Organic Cost-Share, and many more*. Take just a minute to make a call to save these programs!
Head over to the NYFC action page right now and make your call! (Can’t do it right now? You’ve got until Monday, so don’t forget!)
* Some of the programs currently stranded without funding include:
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
Value-Added Producer Grant Program
Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
Rural Energy for America Program
Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative
National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
Organic Production & Market Data Initiatives
Farmers Market Promotion Program
Outreach & Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers & Ranchers
Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program
The Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at the University of California, Santa Cruz is a nationally renowned training program for organic growers.
In addition to funding their important work, CASFS is also using Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program monies to share their best practices with farmers across the country. Their three year grant “Building a Foundation for New Farmers: Training, Resources, and Networks,” began in September of this year and has big goals. Namely:
• Expanding training opportunities within their Apprenticeship program, including increased access for socially disadvantaged and limited resource applicants;
• Revising and augmenting training materials for agricultural educators as well as providing them free online and at cost in print;
• Creating a Beginning Farmers network for the Central Coast region of California including farm mentoring, peer-to-peer connections, workshops, and social networking tools.
“The central coast is an incredibly rich place for organic farming,” explained Martha Brown, Senior Editor at CASFS. This regional success, however, does present a new set of obstacles for new and beginning farmers that the BFRDP grant hopes to address: opportunity visibility. “You have to sort of corral the opportunities together,” said Brown. Improvements to CASFS’s website, GrowaFarmer.org, will do just that by providing infrastructure such as a calendar of regional events and an online farmer’s forum. By helping CASFS craft the website as an information hub, BFRDP funds will benefit the entire region for years to come.
In addition to these online resources, the Center will be using BFRDP funds to promote interpersonal networks between mentors and new farmers using traditional and 21st century methods. The CASFS training manuals, “Teaching Direct Marketing and Small Farm Viability” and “Teaching Organic Farming and Gardening” which are designed to help others teach organic farming, gardening, and marketing skills, are to be expanded, made available free of charge online, and marketed to a national audience. These marketing techniques will rally social media, peer networks, and the website infrastructure.
Anne Eschenroeder, a CASFS alumna, says that her training there deeply influences her current work managing Phillies Bridge Farm Project, a nonprofit educational farm in the Hudson Valley. “Everything I do at Phillies Bridge is a direct result of my training there,” Eschenroeder stated. “You learn to read crops, read the land, and learn by doing, not just in a classroom.” The mix of hands-on training, classroom time, guest speakers, and peer networking made the training particularly effective, according to Eschenroeder. Of the center itself, Eschenroeder says, “it is an amazing place; the teachers are amazing, and it turns out great farmers.”
With BFRDP funding on the chopping block, now is a crucial time to tell congress to support the program in the new Farm Bill! “It is so little money for so much payback, it would be a tragedy for it to go away,” observed Brown. We can all do a part to ensure that this small portion of the Farm Bill stays designated for young farmers and ranchers. Please join the NYFC campaign to save the BFRDP!
In Wisconsin, as in most of the country, the path to becoming a teacher or a lawyer is well defined. But suppose you want to become a dairy farmer without a farm to inherit: That career path is less certain. And, with an aging population of farmers, it’s more important than ever to educate the next generation of ranchers. Many farms without successors are being sold to become large animal confinement operations. Wisconsin’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Standards and GrassWorks Inc, a non-profit that provides leadership, education and resources for grass-based farmers, are offering an alternative. Their apprenticeship program is graduating a group of beginning ranchers trained in “managed grazing” and ready to own their own dairy farms.
The Grassworks Apprenticeship Program, thanks to funding from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP,) hires beginning ranchers to work for a “Master Dairy Grazier” for a two-year, 4000 paid-hours program that includes 288 hours of off-farm instruction, from classes in technical schools to training on herd nutrition and holistic management. During these two years, the apprentices are working towards their goal of farm ownership, whether it is moving into an equity earning system or initiating a farm transfer. Program manager Joe Tomandl reports these individual farm businesses based on managed grazing “…have real success, and they make money. They keep local communities going. They make upper middle class business people and a lot of quality jobs. There’s a real potential for rural economic development here too. And that isn’t saying anything about the environmental benefits.”
Nate Weisenfeld, one of the 11 apprentices in the 2010-12 cohort, fell in love with agriculture on his grandparent’s dairy farm. He worked on a dairy while earning a degree in dairy science and, after graduation, began buying a half-calf each paycheck instead of being paid in cash. After four years he was able to leave the dairy and start milking his own cows. In 2010, he bought a house and 80 acres. Nate serves as a model beginning rancher for the Grassworks Apprenticeship Program. Although he was on track to starting his own business before participating in the program, he has benefited greatly from its resources, especially the network. This summer, when he had some issues he was able to call upon the group for help. “I have a whole Rolodex of experienced farmers… They come out in the field, walk through the pastures and say ‘Here is what I think.’”
Without the BFRDP and the Grassworks Apprenticeship Program, Nate believes he would be working at a factory punching a button. Nate struggled with obtaining loans from regular commercial banks before receiving training from the program. Starting a farm is just too difficult to do alone, he says “It’s absolutely crucial that we have this program.”
Have you signed the petition to support a better Farm Bill? It’s not too late: sign up now.
Ken Olson is the extension beef specialist at South Dakota State’s West River Agricultural Center. He came to South Dakota from Montana, where he grew up on a farm that ultimately wasn’t large enough to support both him and his brother. Though he teaches agricultural science for a living at SDSU, the highlight of his career has been his work developing an exciting rancher training program funded by the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers’ Development Program (BFRDP.) The program has allowed him to expand his reach to beginning ranchers with fledgling businesses who need more technical assistance and connections. The program, called BEEFSD, is a partnership between the SDSU extension and the South Dakota Farm Bureau. When the project received funding in 2010, 46 individuals representing 30 operations began a three year training program which includes classroom time, field trips to established ranches, guest speaker lectures, and networking opportunities.
The most satisfying aspect of the program for Ken is the creation of a close community among the cohort. “It’s a bright young bunch of people,” Ken says. “We have helped them establish a network among themselves and we are really promoting networking and learning from each other.” The education they receive is exponentially increased, as each rancher is quick to share new knowledge with the others. Ken explains, “…the time on the bus is almost as valuable as the trip because of all that networking.” The program also introduces participants to mid to late-life successful ranchers who have a lot of wisdom and experience to draw from. Through visits to their ranches and guest lectures, participants are given an opportunity to create a support network of experienced mentors.
Ken and his colleagues would love to continue the program with a new cohort of beginning ranchers, but without BFRDP funding the future of the program is bleak. BEEFSD even has some money left over from their 2010 grant, but because BFRDP funding doesn’t roll over after three years, the team needs to start from scratch. For Ken, it’s essential the program and funding for farmer training programs continue. “It doesn’t seem like a lot of people. But it’s 46 people whose futures have been positively impacted. If we can keep this thing going we can build on what we’ve started here. These 46 people are young, excited and motivated. They are active learners, they really energize me. They are going to be the future leaders of South Dakota.”
If you would like to help programs like BEEFSD succeed in the future, please help advocate for the BFRDP in the next Farm Bill. If you haven’t yet signed the petition, click here to join the call!
My name is Sophie Ackoff, I have been an apprentice at Glynwood Farm. Like so many other beginning farmers today, I don’t come from a farming family and I have no land or agricultural skills to inherit from my parents.
I believe that the government needs to support beginning farmers and shouldn’t short-change farmer training programs. Please act now to send that message to Congress.
I grew up in suburban Southern California, a region historically filled with citrus groves that ultimately succumbed to pressure from developers. Our family vacations always involved driving past the confined beef and dairy operations of the Central Valley, and at a young age I became active in the fight against industrial farming.
Still, I did not witness how broccoli and Brussels sprouts grew until I went to college. At Wesleyan University, I discovered my love of farming at the student-run organic farm, Long Lane. Despite having few academic opportunities in sustainable agriculture, an incredible number of Wesleyan students are starting to farm thanks to alternative training programs such as farm apprenticeships and incubators. Seeing several friends graduate and begin farming, I realized a career in the field was a feasible possibility for young, idealistic kids like me who are eager to transform our broken food system.
I believe the BFRDP is a major reason why my friends and I are optimistic about having a future in farming.
In 2008, the federal government finally recognized the need to support beginning farmer training programs – that build future farmers like me – and provided $75 million in direct farm bill funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). In just a few years, this program has helped launch pioneering farmer training programs across the country, such as Holistic Management International’s Beginning Women Farmers program, Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings, and the Latino Farmers Cooperative of Louisiana’s Farmer Incubator. The programs funded by the BFRDP are creating unique opportunities for young people who might not otherwise have had access to affordable farm training.
For my first full-season apprenticeship, I chose the Glynwood Center because of the organization’s dedication to helping to train the next generation of farmers. Glynwood is a non-profit organization located in New York’s Hudson Valley, whose mission is to “save farming by strengthening farming communities and regional food systems.” We have a working farm in Cold Spring, NY that has a hundred-member CSA and a pasture-based livestock operation. After receiving a grant for a feasibility study from the BFRDP, the organization has now leased additional land to launch a farmer training program that expands our current apprenticeship program.
In the Northeast, there are many first-year apprenticeship opportunities. Glynwood hopes to grow farmers by nurturing the business and management skills that complement on-farm, hands-on apprenticeships, from budgeting to navigating loans and leases. There is a real need for programs that cultivate those apprentices in subsequent seasons and help young farmers transition to management roles, so they can ultimately operate their own farm enterprise. Glynwood’s BFRDP-funded program will expand the number of apprentices they train each year, and include ample classroom time devoted to strengthening skills needed for the business side of farming. After a season or two, beginning farmers have a solid skill set but lack access to affordable farmland and capital, and could benefit from mentorship and equipment sharing. These are critical next steps.
As of October 1st, the BFRDP has no renewed farm bill funding and the future of emerging, established, and new beginning farmer training programs is now in jeopardy. I am a young farmer, and an organizer for NYFC because I believe the entire country has a vital stake in the future of America’s young farmers.
If the BFRDP’s future is uncertain, so is ours, and so is our nation’s food security. Tell Congress not to slash America’s agricultural future today.
(This post also appeared on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s blog earlier this month as a part of their “Stories from the Field” series documenting the real impact of the Farm Bill.)
NYFC has joined with the Land Stewardship Project and other agriculture organizations around the country in signing on to an organizational letter to Congress calling for proper investment in USDA programs supporting a bright future for American agriculture when they reconvene after the election.
The letter urges action on a new farm bill along with inclusion/investment in two key programs: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Rancher Program. Both of these programs are included in the draft Senate and House Ag Committee bills but both have also expired and have no future funding. As popular and in high-demand programs to lose them in the next year would be a travesty.
If you work with another ag-based organization, please consider signing on as well! The petition is available here. The deadline to join is November 2, 2012. The LSP will deliver the letter to House and Senate agriculture leadership the week of November 12.
Thousands of farmers and ranchers from around the country have benefited from trainings and educational events paid for by the USDA’s funding initiative, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
However, all these trainings are at risk unless Congress backs down on its attempt to use the program as a budgetary scapegoat: in the next couple weeks, they will most likely put together a temporary Farm Bill, and the BFRDP may be pulled onto the chopping block.
The program is widely considered one of the USDA’s most successful programs – since it received funding in 2008, this program has supported 145 different training programs, from apprenticeship programs in Illinois to legal aid for farmers in Nebraska. This year alone, forty programs, from Mississippi to Nebraska to Washington, have worked to inspire and train the next generation of American farmers with the help of the BFRDP. More information and a complete list of funded programs is available at NYFC’s Spotlight on the BFRDP.
That is why we created a Change.org petition to let Congress know where their priorities should lie. We need a sensible Farm Bill – one that addresses the drought crisis of the midwest – without shortsightedly slashing funding for the nation’s agricultural future.
Could you take a minute to tell your representative to support this program today?
It was less than 90 years ago when the perfect storm of environmental destruction culminated from the combination of poor farming practices and brutal drought conditions. The Dust Bowl of the 1930’s is the reminder of what consequences result from the work of over-ambitious, newly settled farmers. In return for neglecting the delicate balance of the ecosystem, they reaped what they had sowed in excess. The careless exploitation of the soil resulted in large-scale erosion and the native grasses that were so very effective in retaining moisture and renewing soil nutrients were stripped away. In retrospect, the Dust Bowl really cannot be classified as a big surprise, given these details.
The droughts this summer are a relatively gentle reminder of what can happen if we neglect the land that sustains us. According to recent reports, “nearly 90 percent of the corn and soybeans on American farms have been damaged or destroyed” due to the weather. Although farming practices have certainly been re-evaluated and improved upon since the Dirty Thirties, another tipping point of agricultural reform is in currently our hands. The conservation of native grasses has often been overlooked amidst the ambition of large scale farming, as well as the demand for cheap and easy food.
Here is where Amendment #55 of the Farm Bill comes into play. The SodSaver provision was designed to “conserve critical natural and economic resources by reducing crop insurance premium subsidies on native prairie acres that are planted to crops.” So far, this legislation only applies to a small part of the Great Plains, specifically the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR). The goal of the recent amendment was to extend it to be nationwide, and to result in a 10-year savings of $66 million, which would be contributed towards the reduction of the deficit as well as the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).
Native grasslands are very critical, but very threatened. The grasses provide invaluable ecological benefits including “wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, erosion control.” If the valuable native lands are neglected and legislature allows too much land to be used for agricultural production, the long-term costs of erosion and nutrient loss will ultimately be evident in a loss of water quality and reduced capacity to mitigate water flow. The “50 percent point reduction in the subsidy” was proposed to prevent people from relying on insurance coverage to plant as much as they could without care for the consequences to the soil, as well as to prevent the unchecked allocation of taxpayer’s dollars towards this expense. Recent reports have clearly stated, “as federal crop insurance subsidies continue to grow, soil continues to erode on 100 million acres at unsustainable levels, and wetlands continue to be lost.” This amendment has never been more essential since the majority of the endangered prairie territory lies outside of the region covered currently.
Additionally, this amendment proposes increased support for beginning farmers. Currently, over 50% of the nation’s farmers will be reaching retirement age in 10 years or less, resulting in the critical need to start expanding farming programs for the young now. The BFRDP provides training and assistance through grants and community organizations, all of which have been shown to be successful and very effective. Yet its funding has been cut from $19 to $10 million per year. The amendment aims for a compromise of $17 million per year.
But unfortunately, Amendment #55 failed to pass. The main opposition stated that the provision would infringe upon the American individual’s rights to do what he pleases with his own land. However, considering both the environmental and economic ramifications of the Sodsaver amendment, it is what makes practical sense in the long term. There were some critical amendments that did pass, including ones for organic crop insurance and microloans for beginning farmers. Though this progress should not be devalued, there are still issues that have the potential to grow and influence change on a larger scale.
Amendment #55 of the 2012 Farm Bill is critical to the conservation of important lands that preserve the ecological and historical balance of America, as well as supporting the next generation of farmers who have the onus of shaping the future of farming. Careless farming, of course, is not the sole culprit of environmental destruction, but neglecting its effect would be just as harmful as actively encouraging pollution in air and water. You can still show your support by reaching out to your Senator’s office directly via their direct lines. You can ask about speaking to the staff responsible for agricultural issues or by leaving a message. Voicing your support can result in a synergistic effect; it is what you can do to contribute to the fate of ecological conservation and American agriculture.