Beginning Farmer and Rancher Bill praised

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The Center for Rural Affairs praised the introduction 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 (R-NE) and Representative Tim Walz (D-Minn.). Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) 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 first 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 5 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,” explained 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, NE. “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 a nationwide fly-in called, “Sound Investments to ensure the Next Generation of Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.”

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,” explained Dwyer.

Bruckner explained that the introduction of these bills in both 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, in the future of rural America.  

“And it is money well spent,” continued Bruckner.

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Terry Kastens    
Atwood, KS  |  October, 26, 2011 at 09:48 PM

A business depends on assets, which depend on equity. Why should "getting started in farming with little-to-no equity" be a goal for farms when it is not a goal for other businesses? Maybe I'm a young guy wanting to get started in the machinery sales business, or even the car manufacturing busines. Should I get a subsidy to do that? How do "subsidies" equate with "sustainability?" Why can't a young guy get started in the same way as young guys get started elsewhere? By going to work for a farm where his services are highly valued and then building equity over time? Are you saying that wages are so poor in farming that you can't get a decent wage? If so, who would want to be in that type of business? Frankly, wages for good business-minded individuals in farming are becoming quite respectable. Many articles like this start from the premise that you have to be an owner-operator in order to be successful and happy in farming businesses. That seems like really old-line thinking Terry Kastens, Emeritus Ag. Economist, Kansas State University and northwest Kansas farmer

John Crabtree    
Lyons, NE  |  October, 27, 2011 at 11:46 PM

Nowhere in this article does it set a goal of helping young farmers with "getting started in farming with little-to-no equity" (your quotations). The point is to help young farmers and ranchers build savings, access reasonable credit, obtain business planning and marketing skills. What's the subsidy tangent about? You bring up subsidies and then criticize something you clearly have not taken the time to actually understand and use subsidies, which again, you brought up, as the basis for your critique. Perhaps if the economics departments at places like K State had taken a stand against unlimited federal farm programs it wouldn't be quite so much of a challenge for a young person to purchase a farm or ranch. Of course, your last two sentences explain it, you think everyone should just leave the ownership of productive assets to the hands of a select few and be happy to work as an employee, or, even worse, on contract with that owner. I've been hearing that crap since the 70's, talk about old-line thinking.

Missouri  |  October, 27, 2011 at 06:11 AM

Terry makes an excellent point. However, I believe we need to continue to foster enouragement and belief in these young Aggies. All they we hear is that no one can get started in Agriculture w/o marrying into it, inheriting it or being darn lucky. I believe that there is more opportunity in Agriculture today than there has ever been in history, we just have to think differently about it.

Traci Bruckner    
Wayne, NE  |  October, 28, 2011 at 08:24 AM

I think Terry Kastens comments are way off base. The consolidation of agriculture is creating the challenge for beginning farmers and ranchers and frankly, public policy has helped push that consolidation along. If we want to move forward in agriculture we should consider basing our policy strictly on serving beginning farmers and ranchers in their first ten years. I imagine things might look differently with such public policy.

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