The National Young Farmers Coalition (Young Farmers) has historically created federal policy platforms and campaigns by surveying young farmers nationally and gathering informal feedback from our members and chapters. In 2018, in order to more directly engage our farmer members, we began developing a process to ensure young farmers, especially BIPOC farmers, have a formal voice in setting our federal policy platform and that our platform reflects the on-the-ground needs of our farmer members.
The Young Farmers’ Federal Policy Setting Process is the result of months of research, consultation, and conversation with partners and other farmer-centric organizations. The Young Farmers Policy Setting Process was launched at Convergence 2019 through a presentation to members and was approved through a member voting process.
As per the Federal Policy Setting Process guidelines, the work to build this platform included regional and affinity group calls for farmers in our network, a national policy priorities survey to gather information, and nomination and voting on Policy Committee members. The information was reviewed by the elected Policy Committee and staff to draft this platform for the next two-year Congressional session. Members voted on whether or not to accept each pillar, which requires a majority vote (51%) in favor.
What is a Policy Platform?
The platform will serve as an overall guide to Young Farmers’ federal policy work. Coalition staff will use the pillars to prioritize and guide their policy work, but will be given some flexibility in navigating the details of implementation in consultation with the Policy Committee.
We recognize that this platform is not exhaustive; rather, it helps us prioritize areas of work for the next two years based on farmer needs and staff capacity. Further, we recognize that these pillars are not silos and that in practice these issue areas may overlap with each other and other related issues.
Our Federal Policy Platform and Priorities for the the 117th Congress Are:
Racial Equity: The Base for our Policy Pillars
Young Farmers centers racial equity in our programs, policy, and advocacy campaigns. We know that federal agricultural policies have reinforced the systemic racism that encumbers BIPOC farmers in almost every aspect of life, and we commit to advocating for anti-racist policy change. We recognize racial equity not as a pillar, but as the base upon which all policy must stand. Programs that were created to directly address racial inequities must remain adequately funded, and all programs and policies must move towards centering racial equity in their programmatic design.
We are running out of time to take collective policy action before the most dire climate change scenarios become a reality. Climate change is, and will continue to, spell disaster for farming communities and communities of color who are on the frontlines of climate change impacts and are highly vulnerable to unpredictable weather, severe storms, drought, pests, and disease. Young farmers and BIPOC farmers need secure land tenure and better access to new and existing federal conservation programs to do their part, and they need farmers and ranchers to work towards climate solutions that will lessen the impacts of climate change for all. We need comprehensive climate legislation that provides resources to young farmers and farmers of color who will combat climate change and build farm resiliency into the future.
Land Access and Tenure
Secure land tenure is a fundamental component of a viable farm business. And yet, whether young farmers come from a farm family or are first-generation farmers, land access—particularly finding and affording land on a farm income—is most often their top challenge. The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that over the next five years—the lifespan of the farm bill—nearly 100 million acres of U.S. farmland are expected to change ownership and will need a new farmer. This is an opportunity for young producers to enter the field. We must seek policy solutions to eliminate inequities in land ownership and access; protect farmland; facilitate appropriate, affordable, secure land tenure; and farmland transition. Policies should focus on national farmland access and transition initiatives and incentives for the next generation of farmers with prioritization for BIPOC farmers.
Access and Accountability to Federal Programs
Since the founding of the Coalition in 2010, significant progress has been made in expanding young and beginning farmer access to critical federally-funded farm programs and services. Yet farmers over 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by more than six to one, and many U.S. farmers are set to retire in the coming decade. 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 how federal agencies, including the USDA, serve young farmers and farmers of color. Administrative changes to programs so that they better incorporate the business models and farming practices that young farmers and farmers of color tend to use most are still needed. Federal programs should be implemented in the most accessible and equitable way possible for young and BIPOC farmers, with mechanisms that provide transparency and accountability.
Labor and Immigration
The future of agriculture in this country is interconnected to immigration and labor issues. Immigrant farm workers and other food systems workers provide essential services while bearing the weight of a system that exploits their labor with little compensation. Supporting the transition of immigrants, farm workers, and food systems workers to farm ownership and other agricultural roles will keep agricultural production stable and revitalized as a large population of farmers retire and transition their farms. We must act as an ally and advocate for immigrants rights and better labor conditions in agriculture and in the food system.
Student Debt Relief
Young people should not have to choose between a career in farming and earning a college degree. Farming is a capital-intensive and risky undertaking, and accessing credit for farming is already difficult. Black and Latinx borrowers are bearing the brunt of the student debt crisis. For young farmers, and especially BIPOC farmers, managing credit-intensive farming businesses and rising healthcare costs, student debt cancelation or forgiveness can be transformative towards a successful transition to a career in agriculture. We support student debt relief and reforms that will reduce the financial burden of higher education for young farmers and BIPOC farmers.
If you have any questions about the above, please reach out to the federal policy team at firstname.lastname@example.org.