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

Monday, August 21, 2006

New Farmer and Rancher Initiative Unveiled

New Farm Initiative for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Unveiled

On July 13, 2006, a number of farmers and organizations concerned about ushering in the next generation of farmers and ranchers met on Capitol Hill with members of Congress and their staff. They discussed a “New Farm Initiative” that focuses on beginning farmer and rancher issues for the new farm bill.

We believe the 2007 farm bill should include a major, cross-cutting new farm and ranch initiative that comprehensively addresses the needs of beginning farmers and ranchers. The New Farm Initiative should provide beginning farmers and ranchers the tools they need to be good stewards of land and water, be innovative and entrepreneurial, and respond to the rapidly changing demands of the marketplace.

Eight farmers participated, representing diverse agricultural regions. They came from California, Georgia, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Pennsylvania to share their stories and insights into how the farm bill can better serve beginning farmers and ranchers. Most were beginners who shared stories on how they have been able to start farming. Others were established farmers who are deeply concerned about getting the next generation started.

A farmer from Fountain, Minnesota, shared how the Farm Beginnings Program through the Land Stewardship Project – a mentoring, training, linking, and educational program taught by farmers (offered in Nebraska by the Center for Rural Affairs) – gave him the knowledge base to enter farming with controlled, rotational grazing. This program provided business planning, technical assistance, conservation planning, and more, allowing him to enter farming successfully. Brad is one of more than 260 people who have completed the Farm Beginnings Program, 60 percent of whom are farming today.

A farmer from Soledad, California, explained how California FarmLink’s Beginning Farmer Individual Development Account Program – a training program that encourages beginning farmers to save money that is then matched – enabled him to save enough money for a downpayment on a farm. This program provided him more than just a matched savings plan. It also provided lending training, business planning, and technical assistance for his farm operation. Miguel has successfully completed the program and is growing strawberries sold to local markets in California.

A cotton farmer from Donalsonville, Georgia, shared some of the enormous challenges he faces. Unlimited commodity program payments are threatening the ability of farmers like Stephen to remain in farming because of the impact they place on land values and cash rents. Stephen’s story relates how critical it is for the new farm bill to address this issue by effectively capping commodity program payments.

Two farmers from South Dakota discussed their concern about the ability of the next generation to be able to continue farming once they retire. They would like to see incentives that provide retiring farmers some protection when renting or selling land to a beginner.

The New Farm Initiative seeks to address the concerns raised by these farmers.

The initiative calls for:
>> 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. As part of the New Farm Initiative, the BFRDP should be reauthorized, amended to specifically address new immigrant farming concerns, and be 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 could be used toward capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including expenses associated with purchases of land, equipment, or livestock.
>> 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 Pa., Wis., Iowa, Ind., N.D., Minn., Neb., Ore., and Calif. 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.

See a detailed draft of proposals in the New Farmer and Rancher Initiative

post questions or comments here or cotact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Student Photos Depict Crumbling School Facilities in Rural South Carolina

Student Photos Depict Crumbling School Facilities in Rural South Carolina

"It affects us to the point where you can see the depression," Monisha Brown explained a she toured a reporter through a photo exhibit of school facilities in rural South Carolina. The photos vividly illustrate unsafe and inappropriate conditions: exposed wiring, bathrooms with overflowing plumbing, crumbling bricks and rotting wood, and a host of makeshift efforts to keep out the rain.

Brown, a senior at Estill High School in Hampton District 2, was one of 250 rural South Carolina students who took photographs of their schools for the exhibit, which is designed to raise support to improve the state finance formula for rural districts. Dozens of the students were on hand for the exhibit opening and a rally at the statehouse in Columbia. They wore T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase, "But What About Us?" and talked with reporters, legislators, and others about their experiences in school.

The photo exhibit opened at the capitol in May and will tour the state this summer. It is part of an ongoing effort by Education First, a coalition of churches and civics groups, to bring attention to conditions in rural schools and raise pressure in the state to address them.

The group takes issue with a recent ruling in South Carolina's long-running school finance lawsuit in which Judge Thomas Cooper found that school facilities and other programs in plaintiff districts were "minimally adequate" and therefore met the state's low constitutional standard. Judge Cooper ruled, however, that the state was failing to provide adequate early learning opportunities for the poorest children.

Deplorable facilities in some schools are just one result of South Carolina's rural school funding crisis. Heating and cooling systems don't work in many buildings. Libraries in some districts are making do with books dating to the 19th century. And many districts struggle to find and keep teachers. One rural district saw a complete turnover of its teaching staff in a recent four-year period.

This article is from the Rural Policy Matters newsletter from our friends at the Rural School and Community Trust -

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

WTO food talks end in suspension and failure

by Anthony Fletcher

Pascal Lamy will demand a suspension of the Doha round of agriculture talks this week, after WTO members failed to reach a meaningful consensus.

Pascal Lamy will demand a suspension of the Doha round of agriculture talks this week, after WTO members failed to reach a meaningful consensus. This effectively means that the much-heralded talks, which were supposed to introduce important changes in global trade tariffs, have been a failure.

"We have missed a very important opportunity to show that multilateralism works," said Lamy, the WTO director general.

"The feeling of frustration, regret and impatience was unanimously expressed by developing countries this afternoon."

The main blockage is in the two agriculture legs of the triangle of issues, market access and domestic support. Differences of opinion over these issues has proved terminal.

"I very much regret that we were unable to find consensus among the G6 on the Doha Round 'modalities'," said EU agriculture minister Mariann Fischer Boel.

"We must be under no illusion that this break down can be painted in rosy colours."

There have always been significant differences between various trading blocs - the EU trade commissioner recently called the US the 'biggest single block' to the successful completion of the round but there had been a vague anticipation that some sort of accommodation could be reached.

This is now further away than ever. Lamy did not say when the negotiations would resume, but argued that movement towards a conclusion could only result from internal work within countries.

The decision to suspend negotiations was taken after talks among six major members broke down on Sunday. Ministers from Australia, Brazil, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States had met in Geneva to try to follow up on instructions from the St Petersburg Summit on 17 July.

The Geneva meeting was "lengthy and detailed but at its conclusion, it remained clear that the gaps remain too wide," said Lamy.

Lamy has therefore recommended the talks be suspended in all subjects across the round as whole to give members time to reflect. He warned however that there was a real possibility that an opportunity to integrate more vulnerable members into international trade could be lost.

"If the political will really exists, there must be a way," he said. "But it is not here today."

"And let me be clear: there are no winners and losers in this assembly. Today there are only losers.”

(this article reproduced with permission from Dairy Reporter and Decision News Media)

post a question or comment here or contact John Crabtree,

Center for Rural Affairs
Values. Worth. Action.