by Robert Pore, Grand Island Independent, email@example.com
In an effort to increase the declining number of young people entering into production agriculture, the Center for Rural Affairs, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other organizations have announced a "New Farm Initiative" they want included in the 2007 farm bill.
Twenty-five years ago there were 350,000 farmers and ranchers under the age of 35 in this country, said Traci Bruckner, the center's assistant director of rural policy.
"That number has declined steadily until there will be fewer than 70,000 next year," Bruckner said. "That is why discussions of the 2007 farm bill should begin with a real debate over what the 2007 farm bill can do to lift up the next generation of family farmers and ranchers."
The Center for Rural Affairs contends that the 2007 farm bill should include a major, cross-cutting new farm and ranch initiative that addresses, in comprehensive fashion, the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers.
Bruckner said the "New Farm" initiative should provide beginning farmers and ranchers with tools they need to be good stewards of land and water; to be innovative and entrepreneurial; and to be better able to respond to the rapidly changing demands of the marketplace.
"If we want vibrant rural communities and healthy family farms, it is imperative that we invest in programs that serve beginning farmers and ranchers and enable them to get started farming successfully," Bruckner said.
The New Farm Initiative includes the following proposals:
· Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program -- The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), authorized in Section 7405 of the 2002 farm bill, is targeted to collaborative local, state, and regionally based networks and partnerships to support training, mentoring, land linking, education and planning activities to assist beginning farmers and ranchers.
The program also has a separate section for developing beginning farmer- and rancher-related curricula.
In the Senate version of the last farm bill, $15 million a year in mandatory funds was set aside for the program, but that funding was stripped out in conference with the House, and to date the ag appropriations subcommittee that determines annual discretionary funding allocations has not provided the program any money.
As part of the New Farm Initiative, the BFRDP should be reauthorized, amended to specifically address new immigrant farming concerns, and granted significant annual mandatory farm bill funding.
· Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts Pilot Program -- The 2007 farm bill should establish a Beginning Farmer and Rancher IDA Pilot Program that uses special matched savings accounts to assist those of modest means to establish a pattern of savings and to promote a new generation of farmers and ranchers.
The account proceeds may be used toward capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including expenses associated with purchases of land, equipment or livestock.
The proposed program would be administered through the Farm Services Agency and include at least 20 state pilot programs, each with authority to enroll up to 40 participants. The pilot would be funded at $10 million over the life of the farm bill.
· Stewardship Incentives for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers -- The bill should strengthen existing authority (Sec. 2004(a) of the 2002 farm bill) to provide special incentives to beginning and limited resource producers to encourage their participation in conservation, to help get new farmers started, and to achieve long-lasting conservation improvements.
· Transitioning the Beginning Farmer Land Contract Pilot Project into a permanent nationwide program -- The 2002 farm bill established a Beginning Farmer Land Contract pilot program to allow USDA to provide loan guarantees to sellers who self-finance the sale of land to beginning farmers and ranchers.
The pilot program is currently operating in Nebraska and eight other states. In each state, up to five private contract land sales between retiring and beginning farmers may be guaranteed under the terms of the pilot project. As part of the New Farm and Ranch Initiative in the 2007 farm bill, the Land Contract pilot program should be made permanent and applied nationwide.
To see a detailed draft of current beginning farmer and rancher proposals in the New Farmer and Rancher Initiative, see the Center for Rural Affairs Web site at http://www.cfra.org/pdf/newfarm_initiative.pdf
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