The National Young Farmers Coalition (“Young Farmers”) unites young farmers and ranchers to ensure a viable future for U.S. agriculture, and works with policymakers to address the most critical structural and economic barriers preventing motivated young people from building successful farming careers. We also recognize that the structural and economic issues that affect socially disadvantaged farmers must be addressed with specificity to ensure that all aspiring farmers have a fair shot at continuing their agricultural careers.
Congress and the USDA have made significant progress in recent years towards better serving young and beginning farmers, and we commend them for their efforts. As our nation’s population of farmers continues to age, however, we cannot afford to delay in recruiting, training, and supporting this next generation of business owners and stewards of American farmland.
Federal funding plays a critical role in furthering this support for young farmers. We request the following be included in the FY 2021 Agriculture Appropriations bill to maintain core functions of USDA programming to young, beginning, socially disadvantaged, and small-scale farmers:
Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey
Land access continues to be the biggest challenge facing beginning, current, and aspiring young farmers. Without secure land tenure, farmers are unable to invest in on-farm infrastructure or conservation practices critical to building soil quality, financial equity, and successful businesses. Land loss is also a major challenge for farmers of color who do not have clear title to their land because it was passed down without a formal will; the land is then subject to fractured ownership among many relatives, becoming what is known as heirs property.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress tasked USDA with completing an updated TOTAL Survey, the results of which will provide comprehensive data on farmland ownership, tenure, transition, and entry of beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers as a follow-on to the Census of Agriculture (Sec. 12607). Access to this information is crucial to better understand the policies and trends that lead to secure land tenure and thriving farm businesses.
To ensure that USDA can produce a robust analysis leading to better access and more secure land tenure for young and socially disadvantaged farmers alike, we ask that Congress fund the survey with the full $3 million for FY21.
Conservation Operations (CO)
Young farmers have a strong environmental ethic, with 75% of respondents to our 2017 National Young Farmers Survey describing their practices as sustainable. Many of the practices they use—from cover crops to rotational grazing to reduced tillage—have soil health and carbon sequestration benefits that have a climate impact far beyond the farm gate. Funding from CO enables NRCS field staff to provide direct technical assistance and planning support for farmers and ranchers across the country as they implement voluntary conservation practices. This helps farmers and ranchers respond to and mitigate the impacts of climate change, enabling them to build resilience as they grow their operations.
To ensure that our nation’s farmers and ranchers are adequately assisted in stewarding natural resources and combating climate change, we ask that Congress fund Conservation Operations at $840 million for FY21.
National Organic Program (NOP)
As young farmer and rancher entrepreneurs build their businesses, they consistently seek to expand their marketing channels and increase their revenue, including through USDA Organic Certification. In fact, 17% of respondents to our 2017 survey were certified organic (compared to about 1% of all farmers). These numbers continue to grow—in the latest USDA certified organic survey, the number certified organic farms grew by 11% in just one year. By setting standards and overseeing certification, NOP protects the opportunity for young and beginning farmers to provide their customers with products they can feel confident in while acquiring a premium price for their efforts. As the number of young organic producers (and organic producers overall) continues to grow, adequate resources need to be allocated to maintain the integrity of the program.
To keep up with the burgeoning demand for organics, we ask that Congress fully fund the NOP at $20 million for FY21.
Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production
Many young and socially disadvantaged farmers choose urban environments for their operations in order to be closer to markets and to foster greater community engagement. However, urban growers often struggle with access to USDA services. To be more inclusive, the 2018 Farm Bill created a new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production that would exclusively serve urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural production practices. Importantly, it has the power to assign farm numbers to rooftop, indoor, and other urban farms, which would streamline their access to USDA programs.
To better serve urban and emerging agricultural production, we ask that Congress fund The Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production at $6 million.
Relending Program to Resolve Ownership and Succession in Farmland (Heirs Property)
According to the Census Bureau, 80% of land owned by black farmers has been lost since 1910, partially due to challenges stemming from heirs property. Heirs property refers to land passed down through generations, informally, leading to fractured ownership with many relatives over time. This leads to difficulties in transferring that land to the next generation, and leaves farmers vulnerable to discriminatory practices that result in land loss.
The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes FSA to establish a loan fund to help resolve heirs property issues. This fund would help cover legal costs and succession plans to secure land ownership by farmers of color.
To stem the tide of land falling out of the ownership of farmers of color, and to resolve heirs property challenges, we ask Congress to fund the relending program with $5 million for FY21.
Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO)
Agriculture is a knowledge-intensive career, and outreach and training are crucial to a farmer or rancher’s success. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), a component of FOTO, helps train the next generation of farmers and ranchers, providing competitive grants to nonprofits and universities for beginning farmer training opportunities. The Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Grant Program (also known as the “2501 Program”) provides federal grants to organizations that work with farmers of color and veterans to support ownership and operation of successful farm businesses.
While the combination of BFRDP and 2501 into FOTO in the 2018 Farm Bill provides much-needed mandatory funding, the FY21 mandatory funding does not reach historic funding, and supplemental discretionary funding is needed to maintain outreach at previous levels.
To ensure that our nation’s investment in beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers continues to grow, we ask that Congress fund FOTO with $5 million for FY21.
Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN)
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 over 60% of rural areas suffer from a shortage of mental health professionals. FRSAN funding is used to build a network that connects agricultural producers, workers, and their families to stress assistance programs and resources.
To ensure that farmers and ranchers have access to critical mental health services, we ask Congress for robust funding for FRSAN.
Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP)
The Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) supports local and regional markets that 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 via the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) to ensure strong local and regional markets.
To ensure access to thriving local and regional markets for young farmers, we ask that Congress provides robust funding for LAMP.
 Adrilla, H., Patterson, D., Garberson, L., Coulthard, C. and Larson, H. “Geographic Variation in the Supply of Selected Behavioral Health Providers.” 2018. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Volume 4, Issue 6, Supplement 3.