New Actively Engaged in Farming Rule Falls Short

This March, the US Department of Agriculture issued their proposed rule to define what it means to be “actively engaged in farming,” and therefore eligible to receive federal farm payments. USDA is seeking public comments on the proposed rule, which are due May 27. (Add your name to our petition here!)


The proposed change to the “actively engaged in farming” rule fails to meet real reform, and again shows that President Obama is punting on his campaign pledge made on an Iowa farm in 2007, which stated:

The lack of effective payment limitations has resulted in federal farm programs financing farm consolidation and the elimination of many mid-size family farms .... Barack Obama and Joe Biden will close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around the limits by subdividing their operations into multiple paper corporations. They will take immediate action to close the loophole by proposing regulations to limit payments to active farmers who work the land .... Every president since Ronald Reagan has had the authority to close this loophole without additional action by Congress, but has failed to act.

 - President Barack Obama, writing as a candidate for President in his rural platform -Obama-Biden: Real Leadership for Rural America.

The rule takes one step forward by attempting to tighten the farm management definition. The rule calls for requiring recordkeeping and quantifiable measures to meet the management test.

However, the rule also takes two steps backward. The biggest failure of the proposed rule is that it only applies the new “actively engaged in farming” definition to farms structured of non-family members, leaving the loopholes wide open for farms structured solely of family members. We believe the rules should apply across the board regardless if the farm is structured of family members or non-family members.

If this proposed rule is finalized in its current form, most of the few farms it would impact, those structured as partnerships with non-family members, will reorganize their operations to be structured solely of family members to evade any payment limitation. 

USDA is seeking comments from the public on the proposed rule. In particular, they are asking for comments if the new definition should be applied to all farms, not just those structured as partnerships made up of non-family members.

It is time to put an end to the loopholes and abuses that prevent payment limits from being effective. Loopholes make a mockery of the policy and work to the detriment of family farm agriculture.

Contact me, Traci Bruckner, by emailing to learn how you can submit comments calling on USDA to tighten the “actively engaged in farming” definition and ensure it applies to all farms.