The Center for Rural Affairs praised the introduction this week of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, a cross-cutting initiative aimed at helping the next generation of farmers and ranchers enter into agriculture and take advantage of emerging markets. The bill is sponsored by Representative Jeff Fortenberry and Representative Tim Walz. Sen. Tom Harkin and other members of the Senate Agriculture Committee will introduce a companion bill in the Senate when next in session.
“This legislation is smart, cost-effective public policy that will create jobs and invest in the future of rural America,” said Traci Bruckner, assistant director for rural policy of the Center for Rural Affairs. “It addresses obstacles that often prevent beginning farmers and ranchers from getting their operation started.”
“As the average age of the American farmer continues to increase, it is critical for the well-being of rural America that young people engage in farming and agricultural entrepreneurship. This legislation provides common-sense incentives to young farmers and ranchers, helping overcome the initial challenges facing those who wish to establish their careers in agriculture and raise families on the farm,” said Representative Jeff Fortenberry, who represents Nebraska’s 1st Congressional district and is a co-sponsor of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act contains several key elements, including:
• Reauthorizing the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a beginning farmer and rancher training and support initiative. It would increase mandatory funding from $75 million to $125 million over the next five years to help meet growing demand for the program and include a new priority on agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training programs for military veterans.
• $30 million in annual funding for the Value Added Producer Grants Program and will retain the priority for projects benefiting beginning farmers and ranchers as well as a set-aside of program funding for these projects.
• Creating savings and enhancing lending provisions that help beginning farmers and ranchers access credit and establish a pattern of savings.
• Providing conservation incentives to assist beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to establish conservation practices and sustainable systems on their farms and ranches.
“When you compare the numbers from the 2007 and 2002 Census of Agriculture, you see a big drop in the number of younger farmers in agriculture as their primary occupation. The revitalization of rural America depends, in large part, on reversing that trend,” said Bruckner.
“It can be difficult to get started in the world of agriculture,” said Garrett Dwyer, a beginning rancher and former Marine infantryman from Bartlett, Neb. “Skyrocketing costs of buying or renting land make entry into farming and ranching a daunting task.” Dwyer traveled to D.C. in June to participate in Sound Investments To Ensure the Next Generation of Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, a nationwide fly-in.
According to Dwyer, more beginning farmers and ranchers are needed because without a new generation of beginners, the land will concentrate in large farms. “And that will cause the permanent loss of opportunity for family farms, ranches and rural communities, and squander the chance to shift to a more sustainable system of agriculture,” said Dwyer.
According to Bruckner, the introduction of these bills in the House and the Senate is a crucial step in focusing more of the public investment in the 2012 farm bill on the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Congressional investment in beginning farmers and ranchers is an investment by all Americans, said Bruckner, in the future of rural America:
“And it is money well spent.”