Policy impacts all farmers and ranchers in the United States.
Policy presents many of the most impactful opportunities to help young farmers and ranchers. We focus on key issues such as access to affordable land, credit, healthcare, and student loan forgiveness. Young Farmers’ campaigns mobilize farmers and supporters across the nation for change.
Our Young Farmer Agenda—based on the results of the 2017 National Young Farmer Survey—is a slate of state and federal policy recommendations that addresses the major obstacles young farmers face. Here are those recommendations, organized by the top challenges for young farmers:
Secure land tenure is a fundamental component of a viable farm business. Land access is the top challenge that young farmers face and the cost of land is the number one reason why.
Federal and state government can address this challenge by prioritizing conservation models that keep farmland affordable for generations to come, creating tax incentives for farmers who sell their land to a beginning farmer, and improving access to credit and capital.
Nearly a third of young farmers cite their student loan debt as a significant challenge. Farming is a capital-intensive and risky undertaking, and accessing credit for farming is already difficult. When saddled with thousands of dollars of student loan debt, many young farmers are denied loans to launch or grow their farm businesses.
Congress should add young farmers to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program or offer low-interest refinancing through the USDA.
The shortfall of skilled farm labor is affecting young farmers as well as the general farm community.
Congress should increase funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) to train the next generation of farmers, while also enacting comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s undocumented farm workers.
Farming is a dangerous and physically strenuous job. For young farmers, many of whom are in the early years of starting and growing their farm businesses and their families, a lack of affordable health insurance puts them, their families, and their businesses at significant risk.
Congress must protect and improve the Affordable Care Act and ensure that premiums are affordable, marketplaces are stable, young adults can stay on their family’s plan, and pre-existing conditions are not obstacles to receiving coverage.
Though housing costs tend to be lower in rural communities, so too are rural incomes, with rural median incomes 20% lower than the national median ($40,038 versus $50,046). Compounded by difficulty accessing land and credit, housing presents a significant challenge for new farm owners as they establish and grow their businesses. For farmers who are not farm owners, the challenge of housing can be especially acute. According to the National Rural Housing Coalition, 60% of the estimated three million farm workers in the U.S. are in poverty—five times the national average.
USDA currently provides low-cost loans, grants, and other forms of assistance to improve the availability and quality of housing for farmers, farm workers, and rural communities. These programs should be expanded and must be maintained.
Sound business planning is critical for any farm or small business, particularly in the first years of operation. As overall farm incomes begin to recover after years of decline, providing adequate opportunities for young farmers to access business and financial training will be critical.
Congress should fully fund training and mentorship opportunities for new farmers, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).
America’s aging farm population is set to retire in the coming decades. To support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, transition productive farmland, and revitalize our nation’s rural communities, considerable progress must still be made in the way USDA serves young farmers, who are its customers, stakeholders, and land stewards of the future.
Many farmers do not know about programs; they struggle with paperwork requirements; and local staff may be difficult to work with. USDA and Congress should address this by modernizing and streamlining its customer service, establishing beginning farmer coordinators in each state, and scaling programs down to make them more accessible for new producers.
The Coalition’s 2017 survey found that 66% of young farmers are experiencing more unpredictable weather and 53% attribute these changes to climate change. This finding is consistent with NYFC’s 2016 survey of young farmers and ranchers in the Colorado River Basin, which found that climate change was the third most frequently cited agricultural concern among respondents.
Young farmers are on the front lines of climate change, experiencing unpredictable weather, severe storms, drought, pests, and disease. Congress should prioritize climate-smart conservation programs that promote soil health and resilience, increase beginning farmer access to these programs, and provide adequate staffing and technical assistance for farmers.
For farmers of color and indigenous farmers, the disappearance of family farms has not simply been economic, but systemic. These farmers have faced disproportionate rates of land loss, and the drop in numbers of their farms over the last century has been attributed in part to decades of discriminatory practices by the USDA, which the department itself has been forced to admit and begin to address.
Congress must significantly increase support for programs that help historically underserved farmers and ranchers gain access to land and government services.