The National Young Farmers Coalition (“Young Farmers”) unites young farmers and ranchers to ensure a bright and equitable future for U.S. agriculture, and works with policymakers to address the most critical systemic barriers preventing motivated young people and people of color from building successful farming careers.
Congress and the USDA have made important investments in young farmers and farmers of color throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and we sincerely applaud these efforts to help our agricultural economy recover. As we continue to address the crisis of the pandemic, however, we must also be cognizant of the ongoing crises of a major land transition, a changing climate, and an aging farm population. We cannot afford to delay in supporting this next generation of business owners and land stewards.
Federal funding plays a critical role in furthering this support for young farmers and farmers of color. We request the following be included in the FY 2022 Agriculture Appropriations bill to meet the needs of young, beginning, BIPOC, 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 BIPOC farmers who do not have clear titles 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 BIPOC farmers and ranchers as a follow-on to the Census of Agriculture (Sec. 12607). Further, the Farm Bill required that this survey include data collection on the extent of heirs property so that the full extent of this land tenure challenge can be understood. Access to this information is crucial to better understand the policies and trends that lead to secure land tenure and thriving farm businesses.
Unfortunately, this vital data gathering has not been funded since the 2018 Farm Bill was passed. Given that it requires surveying landowners who are not as well connected to USDA—including non-farming landowners and heirs property owners—it requires dedicated funding this year to make up for the lapses over the last two funding cycles.
To ensure that USDA can produce a robust analysis leading to better access and more secure land tenure for young and BIPOC farmers alike, we ask that Congress fund the survey with the full $15 million required for its entire undertaking in FY22.
Relending Program to Resolve Ownership and Succession in Farmland (Heirs Property Relending Program)
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, creates challenges in accessing federal resources, and leaves farmers vulnerable to discriminatory practices that result in land loss.
The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the Farm Service Agency to establish a loan fund to help resolve heirs property issues. This fund will help cover the costs of legal services and succession plans to secure land ownership for BIPOC farmers.
To stem the tide of Black land loss and to resolve heirs property challenges, we ask Congress to fund the relending program with the full authorized amount of $10 million for FY22.
Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA)
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 CTA enables Natural Resources Conservation Service 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 Technical Assistance at $1.1 billion for FY22.
Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production
Many young and BIPOC 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.
The early results of programming from this office have shown a huge unmet demand. For example, in its first year of grant-making (FY20), the office received 578 applications requesting competitive grants or cooperative agreement funding. With the discretionary funding available, the office was able to fund only 10 competitive grant projects and 13 cooperative agreements.
To better serve urban and emerging agricultural production, we ask that Congress fund the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production at the full authorized amount of $25 million for FY22.