The future health and vitality of agriculture, the food system, and rural communities depends on the successful entry of all who want to pursue a sustainable farming livelihood. Over the next two decades an estimated 400 million acres of U.S. agricultural land will be passed on to heirs or sold as farmers 65 and older retire (currently one-third of all farmland owners are retirement age). While there is a growing number of young people, new immigrants, and second-career professionals who want to enter into farming, they face a myriad of challenges such as the rising cost of farmland, a critical shortage of training, and lack of financing.
Fortunately, the 2008 Farm Bill makes a greater investment in beginning farmers and ranchers than ever before, making it more likely that aspiring farmers will have the tools and financial resources they need to get a start on the land. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) successfully established or expanded each of its program goals to advance opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers. NSAC also worked closely with the Rural Coalition and members of the Diversity Initiative of the Farm and Food Policy Project to increase support for socially disadvantaged producers.
The new farm bill successes include expanded funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program which provides grants to entities that offer training, mentoring, and land-link opportunities for new farmers. NSAC supported the work of its colleagues the Rural Coalition and Diversity Initiative who won a significant increase in funding for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (also known as the “Section 2501 Program”) which provides grants to land-grant institutions and community-based organizations who provide training and assistance for people of color farmers and ranchers.
New language was added to the Risk Management Education Program so that there is a special emphasis on grants for risk management education projects aimed at assisting beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; funding was held constant.
The 2008 Farm Bill increased Direct Loan Limits and increased Direct and Guaranteed Loan Set-Asides for beginning farmers. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Down Payment Loan Program was vastly improved through lower interest rates and expanded farm sales price eligibility. Down Payment loans are now available to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers even if they are not beginning farmers.
A pilot program from the 2002 Farm Bill, Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher Contract Land Sales Program, was turned into a nationwide, permanent program to assist in the transfer of farms from retiring farmers to new farmers. The new farm bill also establishes the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account Pilot Program in 15 states.
Finally, on the conservation front, the 2008 Farm Bill includes revised authority for Conservation Loans, with a special emphasis on beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, a new land-purchase or land-lease transfer program, the CRP Transition Option for Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, and Conservation Funding Set Asides and Payment Incentives for Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers to improve access and participation in conservation programs by beginning and socially disadvantage producers.