NSAC's Blog


2018 Farm Bill Drilldown: Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers

December 12, 2018


Young seed farmer Mai Nguyen. Photo credit: USDA.
Young seed farmer Mai Nguyen. Photo credit: USDA.

Editor’s Note: This is the second post in a multi-part blog series analyzing the final negotiated 2018 Farm Bill, which was released on December 11, 2018 by the leaders of the Farm Bill Conference Committee. Subsequent posts focus on: organic agriculture, conservation, research and seed breeding, and crop insurance and commodity subsidies; previous posts focused on local and regional food and beginning/socially disadvantaged farmers. The bill was passed by the House and Senate this week and sent to the President for his signature.

After a two-year campaign to put the next generation of farmers at the center of the 2018 Farm Bill debate, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) celebrated the inclusion of hard-won provisions that will provide needed support for beginning and socially disadvantaged (SD) farmers into the future. Throughout the farm bill process, NSAC worked closely with members and allies across the country to win support for policies that would help beginning and SD farmers begin and sustain careers in agriculture. With the inclusion of and provision of mandatory permanent funding for the Farming Opportunity Training and Outreach (FOTO) program in the bill, Congress has knocked down some of the most challenging obstacles and blazed a path forward for the next generation.

We applaud farm bill leaders for including FOTO in the final negotiated bill, and to the countless champions of the marker bills that inspired FOTO: the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Next Generation in Agriculture Act as well as the Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers Act. NSAC thanks the Members of Congress who remained stalwart champions of beginning and SD farmers and ranchers throughout the farm bill process, including: Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME), Doug Jones (D-AL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Tom Udall (D-NM); and Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Sean-Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM).

The new farm bill includes an ambitious new farmer agenda and makes historic investments in training and outreach initiatives. The bill expands access to crop insurance and other risk management options, and includes new policies to address one of the most pressing issues facing beginning and SD farmers: access to affordable farmland. Coordination among U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies will also be improved so that beginning and SD farmers can receive better and more streamlined support. Additionally, permanent support is provided for the invaluable grassroots organizations that are working in rural communities and cities across the country to train up the next generation of farmers.

Below, we include a summary of the key takeaways on how the final conferenced bill approaches programs and policies that support beginning and SD farmers:

Highlights

  • Adopts the Senate’s provision to include and provide permanent mandatory funding for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program. FOTO combines two of USDA’s flagship training and technical assistance programs for underserved producers – the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (aka “Section 2501”).
    • Provides $435 million in mandatory funding for FOTO over the next ten years, and establishes permanent baseline to ensure that grants continue into the future. Initial funding starts at $30 million in fiscal year (FY) 2019 and 2020, which will be split evenly between BFRDP and Section 2501. Funding increases to $50 million by FY 2023. Overall, this funding structure will result in a slight increase in funding for 2501 grants and a slight decrease in funding for BFRDP grants over the next few years. However, by 2023, both programs will be funded at $25 million per year.
  • Strengthens BFRDP (as part of FOTO) by: adding new priorities on food safety and succession planning; including farmer involvement in project design and implementation as an evaluation criterion for grant proposals; expanding eligibility for projects serving retiring farmers and non-farming landlords; and establishing a waiver for the matching funds requirement.
  • Increases transparency, accountability and responsiveness to stakeholders within the 2501 Program (as part of FOTO) by requiring an external peer review process and strengthening reporting requirements of outcomes. Also, FOTO includes a priority for grants led by community-based and non-profit organizations.
  • Ensures that all beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers enrolling in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) have the option to receive 50 percent of their cost-share payment up front.
  • Increases funding for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Transition Incentives Program from $33 million to $50 million over the next five years. This funding includes $5 million for dedicated outreach to connect retiring farmers with beginning farmers, veterans, and farmers of color. The bill also expands eligibility to all CRP contract holders, not just retiring farmers.
  • Includes a new data initiative on Land Access and Farmland Ownership to ensure that policymakers and the public have access to important trend data on farmland ownership, tenure, transition, barriers to entry, profitability and viability of beginning and SD farmers.
  • Improves the Noninsured Crop Assistance Program to better coordinate risk management coverage options available for beginning and SD farmers through both Farm Service Agency and Risk Management Agency programs.
  • Includes important changes to allow historically underserved farmers to access USDA farm programs, even if they are operating on “heirs property” and cannot prove ownership of their farm.
  • Creates a National Beginning Farmer Coordinator position at USDA, as well as designated coordinators in each state, to better coordinate USDA outreach efforts to new farmers.
  • Expands State Agricultural Mediation Grants to support mediation services related to farm transition.

Mixed Bag

  • Raises the loan limit on Direct Farm Ownership Loans to $600,000 to better reflect the rising cost of farmland across the country.  The bill also raises Direct Operating Loans (DOL) to $400,000 and guaranteed loans to $1.75 million. As the declining farm economy has increased demand for these loan programs, there is real concern that increases in DOL and guaranteed loans will result in fewer, but larger loans made to more established farmers. NSAC is therefore pleased that the  final bill also includes the Senate provision to increase public reporting on lending trends for beginning and SD farmers, which will be important to ensure that loan funding remains available for these communities.
  • Improves risk management options for beginning and other underserved farmers. The final bill expands eligibility for 10 percent premium bonus to all beginning farmers in business less than 10 years, but unfortunately limits this change in eligibility to Whole Farm Revenue Protection policies. Additionally, the final bill requires USDA to conduct an analysis on the barriers for underserved farmers in accessing crop insurance.
  • Boosts funding for the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to $450 million over the next five years and includes policy tweaks to better support new farmers. The bill adds flexibility for land trusts to better access ACEP funds to protect farmland and prioritize easements that maintain agriculture viability; however, it doesn’t make this priority a requirement, nor does it mandate an option to purchase at the agricultural value.

Lowlights

  • Fails to renew mandatory funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which is an important resource that provides new farmers with the loan capital and business training they need to launch new farm-related businesses

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Farm Bill


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