This is the first of five farm bill fact sheets from the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. For the diehard policy wonks out there, you can also download the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s matrix (PDF) showing the status of sustainable agriculture priorities in the House and Senate versions of the farm bill.

Soaring demand for organic and local foods means exciting market opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers, but the current public policies required to support their entry are woefully inadequate. The future health and vitality of agriculture, the food system, and rural communities depends on policies in the 2008 Farm Bill that encourage this next generation of producers to get a start on the land.

Now is the time to call your senators and representatives and tell them to urge the Senate and House Farm Bill conferees to include important provisions for beginning farmers and ranchers in the final farm bill.


WHY PUBLIC POLICIES ARE NEEDED

  • The average age of farmers and ranchers is increasing. USDA estimated that in 2004 about 4 percent of America’s farmers were under 35 years of age, while nearly one-fourth were 65 years or older. The fastest growing cohort of farmers and ranchers are those 70 years or older, while the fastest declining is those 25 years old or younger.
  • Over the next two decades an estimated 400 million acres of U.S. agricultural land will be passed on to heirs or sold. USDA estimates that currently over one-third of farmland is owned by landowners over the age of 65.
  • Beginning farmers and ranchers face unique challenges. With comparatively less experience, financing for beginning farmers and ranchers can be especially difficult to obtain. In addition, the rising cost of farmland, driven in part by farm subsidies and the ethanol boom, can make it difficult for beginning farmers and ranchers to purchase or rent land. Furthermore, given the non-traditional background of some emerging farmers and ranchers, there is a critical shortage of training and on-farm mentoring opportunities.

STATUS OF RELEVANT PROVISIONS IN HOUSE AND SENATE BILLS

There are key differences between the beginning farmer and rancher provisions of the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill that must be resolved during conference committee negotiations:

  • Both House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill contain lowered interest rates and better terms for Beginning Farmer and Rancher Down Payment Loans, a higher loan limit on direct operating and direct ownership loans, a revitalized conservation loan program with a preference for beginning farmers and ranchers, and a special set aside of conservation funds and a special higher cost share rate for beginning farmers and ranchers and socially disadvantaged farmers. Each of these provisions should be retained in the final bill.
  • The House reauthorized the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program with $15 million in annual mandatory funding, while the Senate strengthened the authorizing language but only with an authorization of appropriations of up to $30 million a year. Urge the 2008 Farm Bill conference committee to adopt the Senate language but defer to the House’s funding levels in the final bill.
  • The Senate authorized the exciting new Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account (IDA) Program with an authorization for appropriations of up to $10 million a year. The House bill does not include the IDA program. Urge the 2008 Farm Bill conference committee to accept the Senate’s version in the final bill but authorize the program with mandatory funding of $5 million a year.
  • The House bill includes a special incentive for owners of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land returning to production to rent or sell to beginning farmers and ranchers that are using sustainable grazing practices, resource-conserving cropping systems, or are transitioning to organic. The Senate version of the bill does not include this provision. Urge the Farm Bill conferees to adopt the House version.
  • The Senate farm bill increased the authorization for appropriations for direct farm operating loans from $565 million to $850 million and for direct farm ownership loans from $205 million to $350 million. The House bill left the authorizations unchanged. Urge the 2008 Farm Bill conference committee to adopt the Senate version in the final bill.