Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Tim Walz (D-MN), along with several original co-sponsors, have recently reintroduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013. The bill includes revisions to existing farm bill measures, as well as new farm bill proposals. It was introduced with the intention of including each of the provisions in the new 5-year farm bill Congress will be working on this year. The two identical bills will expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.
The bill will reduce barriers, such as credit and land access issues, that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, and invest in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers capture more of the retail food dollar through value-added enterprises.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers. The bill was originally introduced in the previous Congress, and gained the support of 37 members in the House and Senate who signed on to co-sponsor the bill. In addition to NSAC, over 170 organizations officially endorsed the bill, including the National Farmers Union, National Association of Counties, Organic Valley, and the Farmer-Veteran Coalition.
Some of the specific proposals included in the bill include:
Expanded Credit Options
The bill would create a new microloan program that would make loans up to $35,000 to young, beginning, and veteran farmers seeking capital to help cover start-up costs, such as purchasing seeds or building a greenhouse. The bill would also give new farmers increased flexibility in meeting loan eligibility requirements for FSA loans to purchase farmland. Finally, the bill would provide funding to jump start an Individual Development Account pilot program aimed at helping beginning farmers with limited financial resources to establish savings accounts that could later be used to cover capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including purchases of land, buildings, equipment, or livestock.
Access to Farmland
The legislation would help new and aspiring farmers access land to start or expand their farming operations by continuing and improving the successful Down Payment Loan Program, which provides much needed capital to new farmers seeking to purchase property. The bill would also modify the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program to give priority to preserving farmland that is accessible and affordable to new farmers, and increase funding for the Conservation Reserve Program Transitions Incentives Program, which incentivizes retiring landowners to rent or sell their farmland to beginning farmers.
New Farmer Training Programs
The bill would renew funding for the successful Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides grants to organizations and institutions to establish new farmer training programs. This program is the only federal initiative that is exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Over the past four years, the program has invested over $70 million to develop and strengthen innovative new farmer training programs and resources across the country, and has funded 145 projects in 46 states. Unfortunately, this program has been one of the casualties of Congress’s inability to pass a farm bill last year, and has been without funding since October.
This legislation invests in critical economic development programs, including the popular Value-Added Producer Grants program, which provides grants to farmers to scale up their businesses and add value to their products in order to meet surging consumer demand for high quality, farm-based, value-added food products such as farmstead cheese, salsa, and grass-fed beef. Value-added enterprises have proven to be an especially useful business model for new farmers seeking to capture as much profit as possible in order to build a stable farm business.
Agricultural Opportunities for Veterans
The bill would also expand resources and create economic opportunities for military veterans interested in pursuing a career in agriculture by establishing a new funding priority on new farmer training and agricultural rehabilitation programs specifically geared at returning veterans, and creating a new Veterans Agricultural Liaison within USDA to help connect returning veterans with beginning farmer resources and assist them with program eligibility requirements for participation in farm bill programs.