What Can New Farm Bill Do to Help Beginning Farmers?

Report outlines beginning farmer options to be discussed in 2007 Farm Bill debate.

Published on: Aug 15, 2007

Payment limits and commodity programs usually dominate debates about federal farm legislation, but a report prepared for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University shows that options to help beginning farmers may be just as important for the future of agriculture.

"Iowa and the nation are losing farmers, especially young farmers, at an alarming rate," points out Leopold Center director Jerry DeWitt. "According to the latest agriculture census in 2002, Iowa farmers over age 65 outnumbered farmers under age 35 by more than three to one, and the number has been declining steadily over the past 25 years."

A new report, the outcome of a research project supported by the Leopold Center, examines proposals for beginning farmers and ranchers that are being recommended for the 2007 Farm Bill. The report, "Giving a Beginner a Chance in the 2007 Farm Bill," was recently released by the Center for Rural Affairs based in Lyons, Neb.

Farm policy impacts beginning farmers

Mike Duffy, director of the Beginning Farmer Center at Iowa State University, and Traci Bruckner, with the Nebraska center's rural policy program and a member of the USDA's Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, served as project investigators for the research. They analyzed farm policies that impact sustainable, mid-size farmers and ranchers including beginners as well as those converting to niche markets and/or sustainable farming systems.

The report states that "In 1978, the United States had 350,000 farmers that were 34 years of age or younger. The USDA 2002 Census of Agriculture revealed about 70,000 people 34 years of age or younger listing their primary occupation as farming." And the escalating value of land in the Midwest is one of the most significant challenges that beginning farmers face.

The report examines the 2007 Farm Bill recommendations designed to address the challenges facing beginning and mid-size farmers and ranchers and offers examples of how they have responded to these challenges in today's agricultural arena. The report illustrates how "public policy recommendations would, if included in the new farm bill, encourage a new generation of agriculturists and ensure the future vitality of rural communities."

The farm bill component that has been proposed for beginning farmers and ranchers includes:
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a training and support initiative that would provide $25 million per year in competitive grants to community-based organizations training and mentoring beginning farmers and ranchers.

Savings and lending provisions that would help beginning farmers and ranchers gain access to credit and establish a pattern of savings.

Incentives to assist beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged farmers to establish conservation practices and sustainable farming systems on their farms.

This research project was funded by the Policy Initiative of the Leopold Center, which DeWitt leads. The 30-page report can be found on the Leopold Center's web site at: www.leopold.iastate.edu/research/policy.htm.