As Farm Bill negotiations ramp up in Congress, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) led the push today to ensure that a new generation of farmers and ranchers continue to receive strong support.
In a letter sent to members of the Senate's Farm Bill conference committee--who decide what will be included in the final bill--Sen. Franken and 14 of his colleagues asked the group to preserve investments in federal programs that provide beginning farmers and ranchers with education and training, access to credit, and access to affordable land.
"Agriculture is a growing and vibrant sector of our nation's economy," the Senators wrote in their letter. "However, the average age of a farmer is over fifty-five and significant hurdles stand in the way of beginning farmers and ranchers who wish to pursue a career in agriculture...support for these provisions in a new Farm Bill will help create jobs, increase opportunities for a new generation of farmers, and enhance the nation's economy."
Sen. Franken was joined on the letter by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Martin Heinrich (D-N. Mex.), Tom Udall (D-N. Mex.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Angus King (I-Maine), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Tim Johnson (D-S. Dak.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Sen. Franken has long been a champion of supporting beginning farmers and ranchers. Last spring, he joined a group of his colleagues--including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is on this year's conference committee--to introduce the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. The bill would help prepare a new generation of American agricultural producers by modifying and improving upon existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs and initiatives to help reduce the steep financial burdens of setting up an agricultural operation.
Over the past several months, Sen. Franken has been a leading advocate for getting passed into law a five-year Farm Bill to give farmers, ranchers, and ag communities in Minnesota and across the country the certainty they need to plan for the future. This year, he authored the energy section of the bill, which will produce jobs and growth in Minnesota's agriculture and rural business energy sector.
Below is the full text of the Senators' letter:
Dear Senate Conferees:
Agriculture is a growing and vibrant sector of our nation's economy. However, the average age of a farmer is over fifty-five and significant hurdles stand in the way of beginning farmers and ranchers who wish to pursue a career in agriculture. We write to respectfully request that you maintain the strongest possible support for beginning farmers and ranchers through targeted programs that provide new and young farmers with education and training, access to credit, and access to affordable land with support for conservation practices.
One of the most successful initiatives for beginning farmers is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provides grants to community organizations and educational institutions to assist beginning farmers and ranchers. This is the only federal program exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Its demonstrated success and the growing demand for the program underscore the importance of the program to young and new farmers. This program has also been important for fostering the success of socially disadvantaged producers, limited resource producers, and military veterans. In the conference process, we urge you to dedicate, at a minimum, $20 million per year over the next five years for this program.
Access to credit is critical for new and young farmers. These farmers can face significant hurdles in obtaining loans through commercial lenders or existing federal credit programs. The House Farm Bill's Credit Title provides and improves access to microloans for new farmers and ranchers. We urge you to support the inclusion of this microloan program, which will enable small, beginning, and returning veteran farmers to access capital that meets their needs and reflects the scale of their operations.
Finally, the Farm Bill's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is proven to be effective for fostering land stewardship and for supporting beginning farmers. CRP includes the Transition Incentives Program, which supports beginning farmers and ranchers access land from retiring farmers. We urge you to provide, at a minimum, $50 million in funding for this program. In addition, we urge you to provide for an increase in the advance payment option within the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Thank you for your attention to and consideration of these important issues. Your support for these provisions in a new Farm Bill will help create jobs, increase opportunities for a new generation of farmers, and enhance the nation's economy.