Mark Udall proposed an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill that would help beginning farmers and ranchers find the resources and expertise they need to continue the country's agricultural tradition. The amendment would require that the Secretary of Agriculture designate an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture employee in each state as a land link coordinator to assist beginning farmers and ranchers in the transition of land from retiring farmers and ranchers with the goal of keeping land in agriculture. The land link coordinator would create a state plan in consultation with the State Department of Agriculture and other local farming and ranching groups to build on any existing efforts.
"The future of agriculture is dependent upon empowering the next generation of farmers and ranchers and our efforts to do so must be multi-pronged," Udall said. "There is no silver bullet, but my amendment can help new farmers and ranchers find the resources and technical assistance needed to access land from a willing retiring farmer so that agricultural lands can stay in production. As America's farmers grow older and the barriers to entry in agriculture grow, it is critical to our economy and national security that we find creative ways to support new farmers and ranchers."
The USDA found in its most recent Agriculture Census in 2007 that the fastest-growing segment of farmers was those at retirement age, ages 65 and older. The agency also found that the number of entry-level farmers has fallen by 30 percent since 1987. These new farmers comprised only 10 percent of farmers and ranchers.
"Farming and ranching are central to our heritage in the West," Udall said. "The agricultural community is rightly concerned that we need to connect more experienced, 'land-rich' farmers and ranchers with those just starting out. This is critical to keeping farmland and ranching properties in the business. Having these coordinators will help focus our existing resources on this important goal."
Udall has been a strong proponent of passing the 2012 Farm Bill and including provisions to help promote forest health and provisions to provide stability and resources for farmers and ranchers. Earlier this year, Udall urged Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to continue the USDA's support for land linking efforts between beginning and retiring farmers and ranchers. In the letter, he applauded a recent partnership between the USDA and the American Farm Bureau to develop a web portal called Start2Farm to function as an online resource to direct new and small farmers to resources that can help them become successful.