Blog for Rural America

The Center for Rural Affairs, a private, non-profit organization, is working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities. Permission to reprint items from this web log is hereby granted, on the condition that clear credit is given to the original source of the material. If the blog provides information for a story, please let us know by sending an email to johnc@cfra.org.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Conservation and the 2007 Farm Bill - III

Conservation and Beginning Farmers

by Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs, tracib@cfra.org

Beginning farmer programs need to be a critical part of the new farm bill, and conservation programs can play an important role. Present trends and current obstacles are working against the very existence of a new generation of farmers and ranchers. Farm entry rates have declined, the farmer “replacement” rate has fallen to below 50 percent, there are twice as many farmers over 65 as under 35 years old, nearly half of all farm operators in the US are over 55 years in age, and nearly three-fifths of all farm assets are owned by those 55 and older.

The 2002 farm bill contained a provision to make federal conservation programs more available and accessible to beginning farmers and ranchers and other targeted groups (Indian tribes and limited-resource agricultural producers). A provision such as this will achieve two important public policy goals simultaneously – help get new farmers and ranchers started while encouraging them to adopt strong conservation systems from the outset. Unfortunately, USDA failed to implement this special provision.

The new farm bill should again include this provision and include the following language:
The Secretary shall create a special initiative for beginning farmers and ranchers, limited-resource producers, and Indian Tribes that will:

- Provide technical service, mentoring programs, and educational training that focus on sustainable agricultural farming practices and systems as well as related marketing issues.
- Provide strong conservation planning and technical assistance through NRCS field staff and resource specialists as well as through the development of cooperative agreements between NRCS and Extension and non-governmental organizations.
- Provide an option for immediate upfront or advanced payments to beginning farmers and ranchers through multi-year contracts entered into for federal conservation programs such as CSP, WRP, WHIP. This would provide the beginning farmer/rancher a more significant cash flow. For example, the contract would provide the beginning farmer a five-year payment stream in return for a legally binding commitment including an easement.
- Offer a financial incentive such as a 25 percent bonus for beginning farmers and ranchers to develop whole farm/ranch conservation plans under EQIP and CSP. Farmers and ranchers can get a good start with conservation practices through EQIP. By encouraging them to work towards a whole farm/ranch conservation plan, conservation will be furthered and it will enhance their participation in the Conservation Security Program by readying them to participate at the highest level, Tier III.
- Create an incentive such as a 25 percent bonus payment for landowners under CSP, WRP, WHIP, and EQIP to encourage them to rent to beginning farmers and ranchers on a longer term, multi-year basis in connection with adoption and installation of conservation structures and management practices.
- Graduate the cost share portion attributable to the beginning farmer or rancher over a period of years under EQIP, with higher cost share in the beginning and lower at the end of the contract as a means to provide a better cash flow. For example, provide 100 percent in year one and two and 50 percent in year three and so on.
- Encourage retirees or non-farming heirs holding Conservation Reserve Program contracts set to expire to make arrangements to transfer the land to beginning farmers and ranchers by offering a rental rate bonus during a transition period, such as a 20 percent bonus for three years.
- Provide a special initiative through the CSP that focuses on keeping land in grass by providing financial incentives such as a 40 percent payment bonus for beginning farmers and ranchers to develop and improve grazing lands.
- Encourage farmland preservation transition initiatives focused on whole-farm planning. Under such a proposal, farmland enrolled in the Farmland Preservation Program could provide 25 percent bonus payments to a retiring farmer for transferring land and the easement to a beginning farmer who has established a whole-farm conservation plan.

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree, johnc@cfra.org

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

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