Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, along with nine of his colleagues in the U.S. Senate, and four representatives in the U.S. House, have reintroduced legislation to support beginning farmers. The bill is titled the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013. The original version was introduced in 2011 for consideration by Congress, but was never passed. Like the previous bill, the new legislation is aimed at helping the next generation of farmers get started in agriculture and take advantage of emerging markets.
Harkin took the lead in introducing the new legislation in the Senate. At the same time, Representative Tim Walz, D-Minn, together with Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., introduced the same bill in the U.S. House as House bill number H.R. 1727. In the Senate, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 is Senate bill number S. 837.
"This legislation will help families and individuals across our nation apply their talents, motivation and dedication to start and continue farm and ranch operations which will help support the rural economy," according to Harkin, who says the bill would invest in the next generation of American agriculture.
The bill invests in the next generation of American agricultural producers by:
* Enabling access to land, credit and technical assistance for new producers
* Assisting new producers to launch and strengthen new farm and value-added businesses
* Helping new producers become good land stewards
* Providing training, mentoring and research that beginning farmers and ranchers need to be successful and
* Conducting outreach on agricultural job opportunities for military veterans.
The bill was originally introduced in 2011 to be included in the writing of what should have been the 2012 Farm Bill. Many but not all of the beginning farmer bill's provisions were included in either or both the Senate-passed or House Committee-passed farm bills last year. When the farm bill ended up not being completed and not acted on by Congress in 2012, the beginning farmer bill was modified and has now been re-introduced. The aim remains the same, says Harkin, to get all of its provisions included in the new five-year farm bill reauthorization, a process now underway in Congress.
Goal is to get the beginning farmer provisions included in new five-year farm bill
"We are delighted to see these members of Congress acknowledge the fact that the farm bill should be creative and address beginning farmer and rancher issues," says Traci Bruckner, assistant director for rural policy at the Center for Rural Affairs at Lyons, Neb. "With this bill and the farm bill debate going on this year, we are going to invest in creating a new generation of farmers and ranchers."
Agriculture is essential to our country's well-being, says Fortenberry, a co-sponsor of the beginning farmer bill. "Given that the average age of the American farmer today is 57 years old, we should work to ensure that the next generation of farmers and ranchers has the opportunity to overcome the financial barriers unique to agricultural operations. This bill provides a variety of support options involving access to farm credit for young producers, cost-saving conservation practices, emerging market opportunities such as locally and organically raised foods within regional foods systems, and increased outreach on agricultural job opportunities for our nation's veterans."
Bruckner adds, "We commend the sponsors and co-sponsors for introducing the beginning farmer and rancher bill. This legislation is smart, cost-effective public policy that will create jobs and invest in the future of rural America. It addresses key obstacles that often prevent beginning farmers and ranchers from getting their operations started."
According to Bruckner, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act contains multiple provisions, including:
* Reauthorizing the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, an initiative that would provide $20 million in annual mandatory funding through 2018 to help meet growing demand for the program, and include a new priority on agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training programs for military veterans, as well as food safety training.
* Put $20 million in added funding into the Value-Added Producer Grants Program and retain the priority for projects benefiting beginning farmers and ranchers as well as a set-aside of program funding for these projects.
* Create savings and enhance lending provisions that help beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers establish conservation practices and sustainable systems on their farms and ranches.
"Creating a new generation of family farmers and ranchers is a long row to hoe, but there are proven strategies that create real opportunities for beginners," says Bruckner. "And the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is written to invest in those strategies and help new farmers and ranchers overcome barriers to take advantage of emerging markets."