U.S. Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) of 2017 last Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives. Their bipartisan legislation is aimed at recruiting and supporting the next generation of American farmers.
“It is among our top priorities as a nation to ensure our next generation of farmers is able to provide the U.S. and the world with a safe, abundant food supply,” said Rep. Walz. “To accomplish this goal, we must provide young Americans with the training and tools they need to take up and keep up farms of their own. By promoting access to land, making credit readily available, and funding world class research and education programs, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act works to do just that.”
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, the average age of the American farmer increased from 57 in 2007 to 58 in 2012.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act lays out a national beginning farmer strategy that breaks down barriers to entry and gives real support to the next generation. This legislation addresses the critical issues new and aspiring farmers face in accessing land, building skills, managing risk and financial security, and investing in conservation to ensure that the next Farm Bill is truly a farm bill for the future.
A number of voices offered their support for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act:
“To keep our agricultural economy strong, the next farm bill needs to facilitate the transfer of skills, knowledge, and land between current and future generations of family farmers,” said Juli Obudzinski, Deputy Policy Director of National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act lays out a national strategy that breaks down barriers to entry and gives real support to the next generation. This legislation addresses the critical issues new and aspiring farmers are struggling with every day: accessing land, building skills, managing risk and financial security, and ensuring the sustainability of their operations by effectively managing and protecting natural resources.”
“The Farmer Veteran Coalition hears from 250 veterans a month hoping to launch their farming careers after serving their country,” said Michael O’Gorman, Executive Director of Farmer Veteran Coalition. “Federal programs that offer assistance to beginning and veteran farmers are absolutely critical in ensuring that the farmers we hear from are able to launch viable and profitable farm businesses. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act (BFROA) will expand support for farmer veterans, ensuring that they have access to the tools they need to succeed. We fully support the inclusion of BFROA in the 2018 Farm Bill.”
“The community-based Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program was modeled after an LSP program that helped us create a solid business plan and network with established farmers,” said Betsy Allister, a Northfield, Minn., farmer and Land Stewardship Project (LSP) member. “Now we’ve been farming for eight years and we’re able to support our family without off-farm jobs, plus, we love what we do. To help more farmers get on the land, we need long-term dedicated funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act would help people from all backgrounds get started and succeed in farming by securing such funding, and I am proud to support it.”
“A national matched savings asset-building and financial training program for beginning farmers, which the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act would create, would be a huge help for beginning farmers who want to build long-term financial viability,” said Pete Skold, a beginning farmer from Webster, Minn. and Land Stewardship Project (LSP) member. “A similar LSP program allowed us to be able to save and buy a new mulch layer and planter for our vegetables without piling up debt. I hope Congress will pass this commonsense legislation without delay so that others hoping to start their own farm can do the same.”
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2017 will invest in the next generation of American producers by:
- Expanding beginning farmers’ access to affordable land
- Empowering new farmers with the skills to succeed in today’s agricultural economy
- Ensuring equitable access to financial capital and federal crop insurance
- Encouraging commitment to conservation and stewardship across generations
This legislation builds upon the numerous provisions of Rep. Walz and Fortenberry’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 that were incorporated into the 2014 Farm Bill, or the Agricultural Act of 2014. Specifically, the 2014 Farm Bill helps new producers access credit; increases land access for beginning farmers; removes barriers to accessing crop insurance; promotes land stewardship; invests in farm training programs; and provides assistance to veterans hoping to begin a life in farming.
The BFROA is endorsed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, National Farmers Union, Farmer Veteran Coalition, National Young Farmers Coalition and Land Stewardship Project.