April 7, 2016
Farming has always been a risky business, but over the past few decades the barriers to entry have increased significantly. For farmers of color and military veterans in this country, the barriers to and risks of starting and managing a successful farming operation are often even greater still.
That’s why the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) joined over 100 national, state, and local organizations in sending a letter to House and Senate appropriators this week, urging them to provide increased funding for outreach and targeted assistance to our nation’s military veteran farmers and farmers of color.
NSAC led this letter in partnership with two other prominent farmer-based organizations: the Rural Coalition, a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC, and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Other organizations signing onto the letter include the Farmer Veteran Coalition, National Congress of American Indians, National Council of La Raza, National Farmers Union, National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Association, and the National Young Farmers Coalition.
In their letter, these groups stress the importance of additional funding for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, stating:
The Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (OASDVFR) Program helps our nation’s historically underserved producers gain access to the United States Department of Agriculture’s credit, commodity, conservation and other programs and services. The program supports technical assistance to producers through community-based organizations, tribes and educational institutions best prepared to reach and serve them…We urge the committee to appropriate the additional $10 million needed to restore the program to its previous levels.
For decades, this program (also known as the 2501 program) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of minority farmers – including immigrant, refugee, and tribal producers, along with farmworkers. The program was recently expanded to also serve military veterans, which makes increased funding all the more necessary.
About the 2501 Program
Although several federal programs exist to support all farmers – including loan, conservation, and disaster assistance programs to name a few – racial minorities and veteran farmers have historically been underserved by these programs due to discrimination and inadequate outreach and assistance.
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.
The 2501 program provides technical assistance to reduce the trend among socially disadvantaged and veteran producers of engaging in fewer farm program payments, fewer and lower-valued loans, and less outreach and training than other producers.
In the letter, the groups point to the success the 2501 program has had in “bringing producers back to USDA or in the door for the first time.” As an example, the letter points to the greatly increased participation levels – by a diverse array of producers – in the NRCS high-tunnel program as well as in the FSA microloan program.
At present the 2501 program is severely underfunded given the demand. The recent $10 million cut in funding via the 2014 Farm Bill has already impacted many of the community-based and non-profit organizations who relied upon the program to conduct targeted outreach to underserved farmers. The letter states that several organizations that work with farmers of color and veterans across the country have “already or are currently in the process of laying off hundreds of experienced staff, creating a service gap to thousands of producers who need their assistance to access USDA program.”
Appropriators Focus on Assistance to Veterans
Earlier this week, Congressional appropriators in the Senate held a hearing to review opportunities and benefits for military veterans in agriculture, in order to understand how USDA can better support the efforts of current and aspiring military veteran farmers.
Among the expert witnesses chosen to testify before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee was U.S. Air Force veteran and family farmer Paul Kanning, who came to DC thanks to support from NSAC member organization Farmer Veteran Coalition.
In addition to Kanning, the Subcommittee heard testimony from three other farmer veterans who have made it their passion to help other service members get into farming. These veterans gave large amounts of credit to programs like 2501, which supports the important outreach work of the Farmer Veteran Coalition and many others across the country.
We sincerely hope that the impactful testimonies and inspiring stories of the farmer veterans that came to Capitol Hill this week will resonate with Congressional appropriators. Appropriators should strongly consider these veterans’ success with the Section 2501 program, as well as other agricultural support and conservation programs, as they assemble and debate their annual funding bills for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies in the months to come.
As Congress works to finalize a budget for the coming fiscal year (which begins on October 1), NSAC and our member organizations will continue to urge widespread support for programs like 2501, as well as for other critical programs that help veterans and all aspiring farmers.