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NATIONAL YOUNG FARMERS COALITION

Latest from Young Farmers

Release: Senate Hearing Highlights Need for Broader View of Beginning Farmer Challenges

Contact: Jessica Manly, Communications and Digital Advocacy Director
National Young Farmers Coalition
press@youngfarmers.org, 518-643-3564 x 722

(Washington, D.C., June 5, 2024) Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade held a hearing entitled, “Pathways to Farming: Helping the Next Generation of Farmers.” The almost two-hour hearing featured four witnesses who spoke to their experiences as beginning farmers and ranchers. In response to the hearing, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers) issued the following statements.

We need federal farm policy that centers equity, addresses the land access crisis, and tackles the challenges of farm viability and climate change that young farmers and ranchers struggle with daily. This Farm Bill is our best opportunity to prioritize the needs of a new generation and to build safe and thriving food and farm systems. Unfortunately, while some of our recommendations were voiced in the Pathways to Farming Senate Subcommittee hearing, the focus on base acres and reference prices as the best solution to support the next generation of farmers missed the mark,” said Michelle Hughes, Co-Executive Director of Young Farmers.

The next farm bill should serve all farmers,” said Billy Hackett, Policy Specialist at NSAC. “Yesterday’s hearing showcased perspectives indicating that generational beginning farmers face different needs compared to new farmers, who need support to enter this industry without existing relationships, institutional knowledge, or assets.”

Tessa Parks, a member of Young Farmers and the Land Stewardship Project, both NSAC members, was the only witness able to speak to the unique, heightened challenges that first-generation farmers experience. She said: “Beginning farmers like me face significant barriers to entry into agriculture, including a farm safety net that favors larger and more established farms, barriers to accessing land and capital, climate change, and ongoing corporate consolidation in agriculture that limits our opportunities and diminishes competition in the marketplace.”

In opening remarks, Senator Tina Smith (D-MN), Chair of the subcommittee, and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the full committee, mentioned the rising consolidation and price of farmland, asserting that careless increases to commodity programs would exacerbate these issues.

A study… found a 10 percent increase to the Price Loss Coverage Program… would result in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars going into the pockets of landlords and investors, not [active] farmers,” said Sen. Smith. “Land that is counted as base acres by the commodity program is more expensive to purchase and more costly to rent.

Sen. Stabenow added that “the House proposal to increase these programs by 70 percent… and relax and remove payment eligibility limits for the biggest farms, will make land rents even more unaffordable for beginning farmers… Making crop insurance more affordable and accessible is a much more effective way to help farmers and it does not depend on what you planted back in the ‘80s to be able to get support. And it covers what producers are actually growing.”

Base acre expansion is not a silver bullet or even a priority for new and beginning farmers represented by NSAC and our member organizations, who tend to be small to mid-sized and diversified, and who consistently express the need for support to facilitate access to land, capital, markets, conservation programs, and protection against worsening disasters through expanded crop insurance access,” continued Hackett

Notably, Sen. Smith mentioned her partnership with Young Farmers, saying “I have worked closely with [Young Farmers] on crafting the Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act, known as LASO. This bill would directly help beginning farmers and historically underserved farmers acquire affordable land, develop markets, and get access to capital.”

The subcommittee chair also entered NSAC’s latest report, Unsustainable: State of the Farm Safety Net, into the congressional record as a resource detailing the many challenges that young, beginning, and small producers face to access these pivotal USDA programs, as well as the inequitable distribution of resources through farm programs.

In a similar vein, noting that “10 percent of farm operations receive 70 percent of all yearly farm payment subsidies,” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked if “closing loopholes so [that] only actively engaged farmers… receive Title I payments [could] help beginning farmers compete with larger operations.” This line of questioning was a reference to the bipartisan Farm Program Integrity Act

In advance of the hearing, NSAC circulated a brief comparing many provisions across the Senate and House farm bill proposals intended to support beginning farmers. The brief concludes that the farm bill proposal from Chairwoman Stabenow, which included almost all priorities uplifted by the farmers in yesterday’s hearing, does more to meet the needs of new and beginning producers than the House mark.

With nearly a third of the country’s total agricultural land expected to change hands over the next twenty years, this farm bill comes at a time when the future of American agriculture is at a crossroads,” said Nick Rossi, Policy Specialist at NSAC. Do we continue down the path of ‘get big or get out’, or do we pass a farm bill that addresses equitable land access, retention, and transition?” 

Parks suggested that Congress create and improve programs to help with land and capital access for beginning farmers, invest in programs that tackle climate change and improve the resilience of our farm operations, and address the urgent need for better access to affordable health care and child care in rural areas.

“We urge Members of Congress to really listen to the needs of the new generation of farmers  and not to be afraid of challenging the status quo. This is our opportunity to deliver the kind of changes to policies and programs that will allow beginning farmers and ranchers to build successful careers and provide for their communities,” said Vanessa Garcia Polanco, Director of Government Relations at Young Farmers.

 

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The National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers) is a national grassroots network of young farmers changing policy and shifting power to equitably resource the new generation of working farmers. Visit Young Farmers on the web at www.youngfarmers.org, and on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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