April 5, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Reana Kovalcik, NSAC, 202-547-5754, RKovalcik@sustainableagriculture.net
Evan Eagan, FVC, (530) 419-6740, firstname.lastname@example.org
Agriculture Programs Help Veterans Launch Successful Careers in Farming
U.S. Air Force Veteran and Montana Farmer Testifies Before Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee
Washington, DC, April 5, 2016 – Spring is not just cherry blossom season here in the capital city, it’s also appropriations time. Congressional committees in both houses have been hosting hearings for weeks to determine the efficacy and funding needs of federal government programs in all areas, including agriculture.
Today, Tuesday April 5, U.S. Air Force veteran and family farmer Paul Kanning, with support from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member organization Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC), came to Capitol Hill to appear as one of four expert, veteran witnesses at a congressional hearing entitled “Opportunities and Benefits for Military Veterans in Agriculture”, hosted by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food, and Drug Administration.
“In Montana, agriculture is our state’s number one industry. Couple that with the fact we have one of the highest rates of veterans per capita, it just makes sense to get more veterans involved in family farm agriculture,” said Senator Jon Tester. “This hearing is about jobs, the economy, and honoring our commitment to those who have served. I want to thank Mr. Kanning for sharing his expertise with my colleagues in the Senate and helping shape important rural policy.”
“I am the fourth generation of my family to operate the farm, which is now 103 years old,” said Kanning. “During my transition to my farming career [following 20 years as an active duty officer] I faced obstacles which many beginning farmers confront. I also seized on many opportunities to alleviate those challenges.”
To overcome his challenges – which included adopting conservation practices on his farm, obtaining financing, and accessing training and technical assistance – Kanning relied on an array of federal agricultural programs targeted toward veteran and beginning farmers.
Among the programs Kanning highlighted in his testimony were the Direct Farm Ownership Loan program, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers program (also known as “Section 2501”), the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
“Farming has always been a risky business, but over the past few decades the barriers to entry for beginning farmers have increased significantly,” said Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with NSAC. “Funding for outreach and targeted assistance to our nation’s military veterans and other underserved populations is absolutely essential to the success of the next generation of farmers.”
Over the past 20 years, the 2501 and BFRDP programs have invested millions of dollars in grant funding to support innovative outreach, training, and technical assistance programs and other resources targeted at beginning and historically underserved producers – including military veterans. Thanks to assistance from the 2501 and BFRDP programs, FVC has been able to assist and provide resources to a national network of veteran farmers, providing them with training, educational, and marketing opportunities – such as assisting farmers to obtain certification in the “Homegrown By Heroes” agricultural marketing label program.
“We are now in the longest ongoing conflict in United States history and helping the men and women who served to seamlessly transition into agriculture is a huge task,” said Michael O’Gorman, Executive Director of FVC. “We’re truly grateful to the USDA for supporting this effort and hope Congress will do the same by allocating full funding for these important programs.”
At present the 2501 program is severely underfunded given the demand. The program suffered a $10 million cut in the 2014 Farm Bill at the same time as it was being expanded to include support for the influx of returning military veterans seeking assistance in pursing a career in farming.
“Underinvestment in the 2501 program would ultimately shortchange our nation’s most vulnerable and underserved farmers and ranchers,” said Obudzinski. “By funding this programs in the full amount requested in the Administration’s FY 2017 budget, Congress can support progress and growth in an important sector of our agricultural economy.”
Direct Farm Loans is another federal program that has become even more important as the price of commodities have fallen in recent years. Lower commodity prices have made commercial lenders more cautious in approving farm loans, and have increased demand for federal loan programs that provide financing to farmers unable to secure credit elsewhere. The anticipated demand is so great that funding for some programs is likely to run out before the end of the fiscal year. The expected shortfall in agricultural financing this year makes it all the more important that funding for federal farm loans be increased for fiscal year 2017.
By testifying before Senate appropriators this week, Kanning, NSAC and FVC hope to raise the visibility of these critical programs to ensure that they have the necessary funding to continue supporting veteran farmers for years to come.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to come out here and speak with Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS), Senator Tester (D-MT), and the Senate Subcommittee about these programs,” said Kanning. “I’m in my fourth year of production on the farm now, and I don’t know that I could have been as successful without the help of programs like 2501, BFRDP, and CSP.”
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net
About Farmer Veteran Coalition
Farmer Veteran Coalition is a national nonprofit organization focused on cultivating a new generation of farmers and food leaders by developing viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities. Farmer Veteran Coalition’s network of more than 7,000 veterans from all 50 states is served by mentors in the areas of agricultural production, law, business planning, and career counseling; a small grant program, and the Homegrown by Heroes label for veteran-grown products. Learn more: http://farmvetco.org