Last week, President Obama submitted to Congress his budget request for fiscal year 2015. The $3.9 trillion proposal includes nearly $24 billion in discretionary spending for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the budget in its entirety has little chance of being enacted by Congress–particularly with a divided government in an election year–the White House request is the traditional opening act of the annual budgeting process, and thus provides a blueprint of the President’s policy priorities for the coming year. In that light, the document offers encouraging signs for young farmers.
Most notably, the President’s budget includes a whopping $1.5 billion in Direct Farm Ownership (DFO) loans to be administered by the Farm Service Agency. This would nearly triple the current lending power of the program, with over 70 percent dedicated helping beginning farmers and ranchers purchase farmland and make critical on-farm investments. Access to capital remains one of the largest obstacles for young farmers entering the field. As we noted in our in-depth analysis of the law, the 2014 farm bill reformed the DFO program to allow young farmers easier access to loans. The President’s budget would compound that progress by expanding the program’s reach even further.
In addition to the heavy increase in funding for beginning farmer loans, the 2015 budget includes a small but meaningful line item: $2.5 million to fund the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account (BFRIDA) program. This program, created in the 2008 farm bill and reauthorized this year, is designed to help farmers save toward farmland purchases and other assets through government-matched savings accounts, as well as business and financial training. But the program has received no funding to date. Inclusion in the President’s budget, even at a small amount, is a symbolic first step toward convincing Congress to fund this program in the appropriations process. (Something that NYFC will continue to push for!)
Lastly, the President’s 2015 budget proposes $2.5 million to help military veterans become farmers. The Food and Agriculture Resilience Program for Military Veterans (FARM-Vets) would fund projects designed to provide education, support, and outreach to veterans interested in pursuing a career in the agricultural sector. The proposal is another small but important demonstration of our government’s growing commitment to recruiting and cultivating America’s next generation of farmers. A commitment we share.
Last Tuesday’s release of President Obama’s budget is merely the starting gun of the year-long battle over these and countless other USDA programs in 2015. Soon, House and Senate committees will begin debating and crafting their own budget documents. What is certain, however, is that the President’s blueprint plays a key role in shaping that debate. By including a strong commitment to young and beginning farmers in its budget proposal, the White House has ensured that we’ll continue to have a seat at the table.