by Elisha Greeley Smith, Center for Rural Affairs, email@example.com
In 1978 there were 350,000 farmers and ranchers 35 years old or younger in America. It’s estimated that by 2007 there will be less than 70,000 such farmers nationwide. Farm bill rhetoric always focuses on retaining farmers. But the rapidly shrinking number of younger farmers and ranchers means that the passage of time alone will claim a vast majority of America’s farms and ranches, unless we act now.
Rural communities must realize the importance of a new generation of farmers and ranchers. New agriculturalists are imperative to the future of rural communities. New generations of farmers and ranchers mean viability of rural businesses, schools, and communities.
There are many young people who dream of farming and ranching. But land prices, artificially inflated by unlimited commodity program payments and 1031 tax exchanges, make that dream impossible for many.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, authorized in the 2002 farm bill but never funded, was designed to support training, mentoring, linking, education, and planning activities to assist beginning farmers and ranchers. The next farm bill should invest at least $15 million per year in this concept.
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Land Contracts allow USDA to provide loan guarantees to sellers who assume the higher risk of selling land on contract to beginning farmers and ranchers in Nebraska, Minnesota, and California. The 2007 farm bill should reauthorize this as a nationwide program.
There are many other ways to invest in the rural America’s next generation, but the time to act is now.
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Center for Rural Affairs
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