By DOUG SCHMITZ
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Iowa Democrat and Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill to both the U.S. Senate (Senate Bill 837) and House of Representatives (House Resolution 1727) that seeks to “expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.”
“The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) helps new farmers get started in agriculture, and invests in programs that have a proven track record of equipping farmers with the tools and skills they need to be successful in their farming career,” said Juli Obudzinski, policy associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC).
Introduced by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the bipartisan bill was also sponsored by U.S. Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), in the House, and seven other Democrat senators.
Under the proposed bill, which was introduced on April 25, barriers to credit and land access that new agriculture entrepreneurs may face would be reduced. The BFROA would also allow for investment in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers’ bottom lines through value-added enterprises.
According to lawmakers, the act is a “comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers.
Originally introduced in the last Congress, the bill gained the support of 37 members in the U.S. House and Senate who signed on to co-sponsor the bill. In addition to the NSAC, more than 170 organizations officially endorsed the bill, including the National Farmers Union, the National Assoc. of Counties, Organic Valley and the Farmer-Veteran Coalition.
“With the average age of the U.S. farmer at 57, ensuring that the next generation of American farmers is able to provide the world with a safe, abundant supply of food should be a top priority,” said Walz, who’s the ranking member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry.
“To accomplish this goal, we must provide our youth with the training and tools they need to seize opportunity and take up farms of their own,” he said. “By easing access to lines of credit and land, and creating training programs for new producers, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act works to do just that.”
While most of the bill’s provisions were included in either or both the Senate or House Agriculture Committee passed farm bills in 2012, “the bills’ sponsors are hopeful that they will be able to expand upon these successes in the upcoming farm bill debate later this spring.”
“This legislation will help families and individuals across our nation apply their talents, motivation, and dedication to start and continue farm and ranch operations and revitalize rural America,” Harkin said. “Beginning farmers and ranchers will benefit from practical assistance in this bill, including effective training and mentoring, better access to and careful use of credit, enhanced support for conservation, and help in starting and succeeding in profitable enterprises such as value-added businesses.”
In addition, five specific proposals of the bill would include: expanded credit options, access to farmland, new farmer training programs, value-added enterprises and agricultural opportunities
“Agriculture is a vibrant sector of our nation’s economy, yet high
barriers to entry make farming and ranching one of the hardest careers to pursue,” the act read. “Limited access to land and markets, hyperinflation in land prices, high input costs, farm and tax policy disadvantages, and lack of training discourage many would-be producers from entering agriculture.”
As a result, the average American farmer is now 57-years-old, and the fastest growing group of farm operators are those 65 years and older, the act read.
“Despite these significant hurdles, there are dedicated people who see great opportunities in agriculture today and want to start their own farm or ranch businesses,” the act stated.
“We need a national strategy and commitment to support beginning farmer and ranchers entering agriculture. With an aging farm population, now is the time to invest in the future of American agriculture by nurturing new agriculture start-ups.”