Beginning Farmer/Rancher Bills

Act calls for financial and entrepreneurial training, apprentice programs, and new financing options for beginners

On May 16, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, a comprehensive set of policy options designed to meet the unique challenges and opportunities of today’s beginning farmers and ranchers, was introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Sponsors include Senators Harkin (D-IA), Grassley (R-IA), Brown (D-OH), and Baucus (D-MT) and Representatives Hereseth Sandlin (D-SD), McCollum (D-MN), and Walz (D-MN).

The need for the 2007 farm bill to include such an initiative could not be clearer. Farmers over the age of 65 outnumber those under 35 by more than two to one. A majority of farmland and farm business assets is owned by those over 65 as well. In 1978, 350,000 farmers aged 34 or younger claimed farming as their primary occupation. By the 2002 Census of Agriculture, just over 70,000 people aged 34 or younger made the same claim.

Since 1990, Congress has included provisions in the farm bill for beginning farmers and ranchers, especially in the area of farm credit. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act would make improvements to credit programs and create new initiatives that go beyond traditional credit needs. These would give beginners additional tools to successfully enter farming or ranching, be good stewards of the land, be innovative and entrepreneurial, and respond to rapidly changing demands of the marketplace.

Two exciting provisions in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act include:

  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a competitive grants program supporting education, extension, and technical assistance directed at new farming opportunities.

This program supports collaborative local, state, and regionally-based networks and partnerships to supply financial and entrepreneurial training, mentoring and apprenticeship programs, “land link” programs, and education and outreach to assist beginning farmers and ranchers. It was first authorized under the 2002 farm bill and should be reauthorized and granted at least $25 million a year in farm bill funding.

  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account (IDA) uses financial training and matched savings accounts to assist those of modest means to establish a pattern of savings.

In the case of beginning farmers, the account proceeds may be used toward capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including expenses associated with purchases of land, buildings, equipment or livestock, or toward acquisition of training. An IDA pilot program should be made available in at least 15 states.

The future health and vitality of agriculture, family farmers and ranchers, and rural communities will depend on strong, comprehensive public policies that encourage a new generation to enter agriculture. With the 2007 farm bill, Congress has the opportunity to enact such far-seeing policies.

Contact: Traci Bruckner, 402.687.2103 x 1016 or tracib@cfra.org for details.

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