Each year, Congress has the opportunity to make critical investments in the needs of young farmers and farmers of color through the appropriations process. After two years of the Coronavirus pandemic, with inflation rates soaring and a myriad of global uncertainties unfolding, we need a strong investment in the future of agriculture through FY23 Appropriations in order for our farm economy to fully recover.
As we continue to look forward, however, we must also be cognizant of the intersecting crises of a major land transition, a rapidly changing climate, and a nascent farmer population burdened with student loans. We cannot afford to delay supporting the next generation of working farmers and land stewards.
Federal funding plays a critical role in furthering support for young farmers and farmers of color. We advocate for the following to be included in FY23 Agriculture Appropriations:
Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey – $15 million
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 Black, Indigenous, and people of color (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 2018 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 understanding 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 the 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 the 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 a generous increase of $15 million required for its entire undertaking in FY23. Current and comprehensive data is critically important to understanding the challenges farmers face related to land access and transition. We urge policymakers to ensure the data collection components of the 2018 Farm Bill are fully implemented and to continue to invest in recurring data collection, reporting, and research on farmland tenure, ownership, and transition to better understand the large-scale trends and challenges related to land access for beginning and BIPOC producers.
Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) – $1.1 billion
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.
We urge Congress to fund Conservation Technical Assistance at $1.1 billion for FY23. Nevertheless, further investments and tools are needed to make this technical assistance available and culturally accessible to young BIPOC farmers.
Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production – $25 million
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 Congress to fund the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production at the full authorized amount of $25 million for FY23.
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program – $60 million
SARE is the only farmer-led research program and a critical tool in helping farmers fight climate change. In addition to providing grant funding for farmers to lead research on sustainable agriculture, the program is also critical in peer-to-peer learning by sharing the research findings with other farmers across the country. Research from SARE helps small-scale, diversified farmers implement conservation practices and measure their climate mitigation impacts.
The SARE program funds on-farm research into sustainable agricultural farming systems, including organic systems. Increased funding for SARE would allow farmers to create more and new innovative grant programs that are responsive to their needs and the issues they’re facing in the field.
To better equip farmers with sustainable agriculture practices and resources, we ask Congress to fund the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Program at the full authorized amount of $60 million for FY23.
Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (FOTO) – $10 million
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.
Support for FOTO will allow organizations to continue serving their farm communities and secure the future of agriculture in the state by helping beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers start and grow their farming businesses. While the combination of BFRDP and 2501 into FOTO in the 2018 Farm Bill provides much-needed mandatory funding, for organizations to better support young and BIPOC farmers, we ask Congress to fund the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program at the full authorized amount of $10 million for FY23.