The National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers) is celebrating more than the unofficial start of summer this week: after delivering 12 appropriations letters, organizing 11 in-district meetings with our chapters and their Members of Congress in April, and months of waiting, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee released its agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020.
Though its long name isn’t immediately exciting, this bill has major impacts on farmers across the country as it funds key farm bill programs that did not receive mandatory funding in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Subcommittee (fully named the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies) marked up the bill last week, passing the bill onto the full Committee for consideration.
And the Subcommittee clearly had young farmers in mind when writing this bill! They proposed funding for beginning farmer training, research on farmland accessibility and affordability, farmer mental health services, as well as many other crucial programs and services.
Despite this success, our work is far from over. The bill still needs to pass the full Appropriations Committee and be approved on the House floor. The Senate has yet to release their bill, and any differences between the House and Senate bills will need to be reconciled through conference committee before any spending levels can be enacted.
Farmer Mental Health
The House agriculture appropriations bill provides $5 million in funding for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. Farming is, and always has been, a high-stress occupation. Financial risk, unpredictable weather, and social isolation can all place significant strain on a farmer’s or rancher’s mental and emotional well-being. Farmers have a high rate of suicide, worsened by the fact that 60 percent of rural areas suffer from a shortage of mental health professionals. The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized the program (which was first authorized in 2008) and provided it with $10 million in discretionary (non-mandatory) funding. While the Coalition is disappointed it did not receive full funding, it has increased funding compared to last year, reflecting potential growth for the program, along with growing interest from Congress.
The bill includes $1 million for USDA to complete a study on farmland ownership. Secure land tenure is the cornerstone of a viable farm business. Without secure land tenure, through ownership or a long-term lease, farmers are unable to invest in on-farm infrastructure or conservation practices critical to building soil quality, financial equity, and a successful business. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress tasked USDA with collecting data to better understand who owns farmland and how to transition it to the next generation. With these funds, USDA could begin to develop and plan for this data collection effort, and Congress would have more information when it comes time to write the next farm bill.
Also related to land, the 2018 Farm Bill authorized USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to establish a loan fund to help resolve heirs’ property issues. Heirs’ property refers to land informally passed down through generations, leading to fractured ownership between many relatives over time. This leads to difficulties in proving ownership, and many farmers, especially farmers of color, losing their farmland. According to the Census Bureau, 80 percent of land owned by black farmers has been lost since 1910, partially due to challenges of heirs’ property. To help stem this land loss, Congress has appropriated $5 million to create a loan fund that would help cover legal costs and succession plans to alleviate these challenges.
Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmer Training, Assistance, and Outreach
Congress provided an additional $10 million in the FY20 agriculture appropriations bill (on top of the program’s $30 million in mandatory funding) for the new Farming Opportunities, Training, and Outreach (FOTO) program, a merger of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (or 2501, for short). These two programs are small, but critical to young farmers’ success. Together, they fund training for beginning farmers and help farmers of color access USDA farm programs. The $10 million in additional discretionary funding for FOTO would restore both programs to their previous funding levels – $20 million each.
Local Food Markets
The Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) supports local and regional markets, which are critical to young farmers. Often, young farmers start small and sell direct-to-consumer, reducing the barriers to entry for their farm businesses. The LAMP program provides grants to producers and state and local organizations to ensure these local and regional markets continue to thrive. Congress authorized appropriations of $20 million in the 2018 Farm Bill, and we asked the House Subcommittee to provide it with full funding. They responded by including a whopping $23.4 million! This would provide additional funding to the Value-Added Producer Grant, the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and Agriculture Innovation Centers to provide training and technical assistance in support of value-added agricultural businesses.
The bill also includes $5 million for the USDA to establish the new Office of Urban Agriculture, which was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. This office would administer grant funding to support urban agriculture, and work with the rest of USDA to provide technical and financial assistance to urban producers. This is the first funding dedicated to urban agriculture in an agriculture appropriations bill.
Last but not least, the bill included language to block the relocation of the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Economic Research Service (ERS). It prohibits the use of funds for the relocation of the two agencies, both which directly support research on beginning farmers, land access, climate change, rural economic development, and other important agricultural issues (in other words, all the programs that help support young farmers’ success!). Moving these two agencies will slow implementation of these key research programs, as well as BFRDP, leading to a loss of institutional knowledge and making it harder for the agencies to work with policy makers and Young Farmers’ DC staff.
To ensure these funding levels and that the ERS/NIFA relocation prohibition get enacted into law, we need you to take action.