The Young and Beginning Farmers Act (H.R. 4201) was introduced by Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and Ryan Costello (R-PA).
Our nation’s agricultural sector is facing a crisis of attrition. Farmers over the age of 65 now outnumber farmers under 35 by a margin of six to one, and U.S. farmland is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers. According to the USDA, over the next five years—the lifespan of the next farm bill—nearly 100 million acres of U.S. farmland are expected to change ownership, and will need a new farmer. At the same time, according to multiple national surveys conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition, young farmers in every region identify access to farmland as the top challenge they face.
Fortunately, many young Americans are stepping up and launching careers in agriculture, but there are many structural barriers standing in their way. The future of farming and our rural communities depend on making young farmers a priority in the next farm bill.
The Young and Beginning Farmers Act (H.R. 4201) addresses three critical barriers facing the next generation of producers:
- Lack of access to affordable farmland
Factors like development pressure, rising land prices, and competition from established farmers make finding affordable farmland the top challenge for young farmers and ranchers.
- Difficulty reaching federal farm bill programs
Many new farmers are unfamiliar with USDA programs or find the application and paperwork too burdensome. Young farmers also report that USDA field staff don’t know about or promote beginning farmer programs, or how best to support young farmers in their area.
- Finding opportunities for training, mentorship, and business development
Farming is a knowledge-intensive career and the margins for error are slim. With so many young people entering agriculture from non-farming backgrounds, many new farmers need access to the training they need to start viable businesses and stay on the land.
To address these barriers and support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, the Young and Beginning Farmers Act (H.R. 4201) would:
Improve access to affordable farmland
- Create more flexibility within the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to allow land trusts to protect farmland more quickly and facilitate its transfer to a new farmer.
- Protect the affordability of conserved farmland for farmers and ensure that it remains in farming by prioritizing ACEP easements that contain affordability provisions.
- Reform Direct Farm Ownership loans to keep pace with land prices by increasing the loan limit and pegging it to regional farmland inflation rates.
- Allow beginning farmers to pre-qualify for Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans so they can compete in a fast-paced farm real estate market.
- Direct USDA to report on the effectiveness of ACEP in helping beginning farmers access farmland, and create a plan to address any shortcomings.
Reach young farmers with 21st-century customer service and targeted outreach
- Develop an online self-service portal for farmers to access, apply for, and implement USDA programs and services.
- Establish USDA Beginning Farmer Coordinators in each state to direct outreach and help farmers connect the dots.
- Transfer the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Advisory Committee to FSA
Help the next generation get trained and grow their businesses
- Reauthorize and establish mandatory baseline funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP).
- Fund Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) to help young farmers save for and invest in their farm businesses.
- Provide mandatory baseline funding for the farmers market and local food promotion program (FMLFPP) to increase local market opportunities for young farmers.
- Establish a farm viability program to help farmers improve their business planning, marketing, and profitability.
- Transfer federally-owned surplus farm equipment owned to beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers who need it.
For more information about this bill, or to add your organization to the list of supporters, please contact NYFC’s national policy director, Andrew Bahrenburg.