The presidential election is getting most of the attention this fall, but come November 8th we’ll also be welcoming in the 115th Congress – including some incumbents, but also many new members. With Election Day less than three weeks away, conversations around what will get top billing on the incoming Congress’ agenda are already underway.
Amidst conversations around immigration reform and trade agreements, national security and tax reform, those inside and outside the Capitol Beltway are also starting to ponder what changes are needed to our national food and farm policies.
Traditionally, food and agriculture issues tend to draw the short straw in terms of priorities, especially when compared to hot button political issues like immigration reform, national security, and trade agreements. However, with the most recent farm bill set to expire in just two years and billions of program dollars at stake, the 2018 Farm Bill promises to one of the most significant policy issues for the 115th Congress.
Within the 2018 Farm Bill are a number of high priority issues, including crop insurance reform, nutrition programs, and commodity price supports. One issue, however, could be key to resolving many of the others – supports for beginning farmers and ranchers.
In a recent article published by Choices (a publication of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) discusses how the development of federal policies that nurture and grow the next generation of farmers is crucial to the future of American agriculture.
The piece explores three key issues that are expected to provide the framework for beginning farmer-related policies in the next farm bill, including:
- Access to affordable farmland
- Access to appropriate credit options and relevant training resources
- Lack of adequate risk management options for new farmers
Article author and NSAC Senior Policy Specialist Juli Obudzinski lays out several potential policy solutions for supporting beginning farmers and ranchers that could be taken up by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill, including:
- Transition more Conservation Reserve Program farmland to new farmers
- Engage land trusts in protecting the affordability of farmland
- Incentivize the sale of farmland through federal tax incentives
- Index federal farm ownership loans to reflect farmland inflation rates
- Preserve USDA loan funding for small and beginning farmers
- Enhance the Farm Credit System mission to better serve beginning and diverse farmers
- Expand support for beginning farmer financial and business training
- Expand crop insurance benefits to all beginning farmers
- Improve risk management options for new farmers in their first five years
- Level the playing field for new farmers by reforming crop insurance
The article also makes a case for a “farm bill for the future,” a bill that will not only support beginning farmers and ranchers in the coming years, but one that will also begin an ongoing national dialogue around what changes are needed in our food system to ensure that new and aspiring farmers have the opportunity to succeed.
[The] 2018 Farm Bill could become a “farm bill of the future” by adopting an ambitious agenda to support the next generation of farmers. The tools provided in previous farm bills have made a dent in slowing the aging of U.S. agriculture, but it is very clear that greater investment and a more coordinated national strategy is needed to buck the trend and ensure that beginning farmers have the necessary support to successfully pursue a farming career. This next farm bill presents an opportunity to go beyond just making a dent; it represents an opportunity to dismantle barriers for beginning farmers, leaving a legacy that will reshape the future of U.S. agriculture. The opportunity exists, but only if we seize the moment.
NSAC’s article is part of the most recent edition of Choices, which is focused on the theme of beginning farmers, their opportunities and challenges, and how related issues are likely to be considered in the next farm bill. The full article is available on the Choices website.