Springtime in D.C. means cherry blossoms, opening day at Nationals Park (go Nats!), and appropriations season! Appropriations is the process Congress uses to fund the government. Though perhaps less exciting than a day at the ballpark, this process is vitally important to the smooth functioning of our democracy. You may all remember the 35-day government shutdown this winter which was caused by the failure to pass an appropriations bill.
Luckily, many farm bill programs are “mandatory,” meaning they do not rely on appropriations in order to receive funding. The conservation programs, crop insurance, and organic certification cost-share, among others, all receive mandatory funding, so can stay up and running in the event that Congress doesn’t pass an appropriations bill.
However, many of the young farmer wins in the 2018 Farm Bill did not receive mandatory funding, or could benefit from more funding through appropriations. Programs that did not get mandatory funds received “discretionary” funds, i.e. Congress has the option of providing funding in each years’ appropriations bill. However, many of these discretionary programs that are not guaranteed funding can play a critical role in supporting land access for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, providing mental health services for farmers and ranchers in crisis, and developing local and regional food systems.
Additionally, a number of these programs are under threat in this year’s Presidential budget. In the recently released FY 2020 budget, the Trump Administration proposes cutting the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) budget by 15 percent, in the midst of the struggling agriculture economy and the lowest farm incomes since the 1980s. In addition, the budget completely eliminates key tools for young farmer success: beginning farmer training, organic research, value-added producer grants, local food and farmers market grants, and outreach to socially disadvantaged producers. It also eliminates important research functions, and cuts the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) staff in half. Although the President’s budget may not become law, it does reveal the Administration’s priorities and Congress must to take a strong stance in appropriations in support of these vital programs.
Keep reading to learn more about Young Farmers’ appropriations priorities.
- Land Access: Access to affordable farmland continues to be the biggest challenge facing beginning and aspiring young farmers. The National Young Farmers Coalition has two asks for Congress: to provide $3 million for data collection on farmland ownership to build the knowledge base on land access and land transition, and to provide $10 million to help resolve heirs’ property issues. Heirs’ property refers to land passed down through generations, informally, leading to fractured ownership between many relatives over time. According to the Census Bureau, 80 percent of land owned by black farmers has been lost since 1910, partially due to challenges stemming from heirs’ property.
- Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN): Unfortunately, farming has one of the highest rates of suicide of any profession, worsened by the fact that 60 percent of rural areas suffer from a shortage of mental health professionals. To provide mental health resources in rural areas, we ask Congress to provide $10 million for FRSAN to ensure farmers and farmworkers have access to critical services.
- Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO): FOTO combines two of the most important programs for beginning farmers: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) that helps train the next generation of farmers and ranchers and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Groups (known as 2501) program which funds outreach to farmers of color related to agricultural programs. We ask that Congress fund FOTO with $10 million to bring BFRDP and 2501 to level funding.
- Fully Fund the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP): The LAMP program provides grants to producers and state and local organizations to ensure strong local and regional markets. Since young farmers primarily sell their products locally, LAMP is a critical program for supporting our nation’s young farmers. Congress authorized appropriations of $20 million in the 2018 Farm Bill. We ask that Congress fully funds LAMP to ensure that young farmers are able to build successful farm businesses.
Take action now! Tell Congress to fully fund federal farm programs that help build young farmer success.