NYFC to testify before new Colo. Young and Beginning Farmer Interim Study Committee | TheFencePost.com

NYFC to testify before new Colo. Young and Beginning Farmer Interim Study Committee

Rona Johnson
For The Fence Post

The National Young Farmers Coalition testified before the first-ever Colorado Young and Beginning Farmer Interim Study Committee on Aug. 10 at the state capital building in Denver.

NYFC is the only national advocacy organization focused solely on the needs of young and beginning farmers and ranchers, said Kate Greenberg, western program director for the NYFC.

The NYFC was founded in 2010 by three young farmers who were all at the outset of their ag careers and ready to scale up their operations. But they found that land prices were so high that they couldn't afford to grow.

"They started talking with young farmers and ranchers around the country in similar situations, not being able to find affordable farmland," she said.

β€œAt the same time nationwide, farmers over 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by 6-1. The risk the agriculture industry as well as young farmers face is that they will continue to lose farmland either to development or consolidation.” Kate GreenbergWestern Program Director for the NYFC.

The coalition was formed with its main focus on federal ag policy reform and to make sure that those policies support young and beginning farmers.

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Greenberg started with the coalition in 2013. "I saw a need for young farmers to have a seat at the table," she said. "A lot of our job is organizing young farmers and providing leadership training."

One of the biggest areas of concern is the succession question, she said, noting that the average age of U.S. farmers is 58.3, and in Colorado it's 58.9.

"At the same time nationwide, farmers over 65 outnumber farmers under 35 by 6-1," she said. The risk the agriculture industry as well as young farmers face is that they will continue to lose farmland either to development or consolidation.

The NYFC is also working on developing incentives to pass down ag land and equipment to beginning farmers and ranchers. That could involve beginning farmer tax credits to incentivize the landowners, and to help transition young farmers to farm ownership. Another issue they are concentrating on is student loan debt, which is keeping about a third of ag students from getting into an ag career, starting their own operation or investing in their operations, she said. From the state level there is a lot of interest in some kind of a loan forgiveness program, she said. This is especially important in rural areas where many young people are leaving. Keeping young farmers and ranchers in those areas helps keep businesses and communities alive.

THE HEARING

"Thursday's hearing is an opporunity for NYFC and a number of our partners to addresss some of the barriers and opportunities for young farmers and ranchers," Greenberg said on Aug. 7. "We'll have a full day of presentations and public testimony at 3 p.m. for an hour."

The hearing began at 9 a.m. in Room 357 of the capital at 200 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver.

The Colorado Young and Beginning Farmer Interim Study Committee was approved by the General Assembly in May, following a request submitted by state Sen. Kerry Donovan. The committee will study how state policy can better assist beginning farmers and ranchers, while also helping to protect working landscapes, enhance climate resiliency, promote innovation, and sustain rural communities and economies, according to a press release from the NYFC.

The six committee members are Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg (Chair), Kerry Donovan, and Larry Crowder, and Reps. Barbara McLachlan (Vice Chair), Marc Catlin, and Dominique Jackson.

"This is a great opportunity for the Interim Committee to step up on behalf of young farmers and ranchers in Colorado and guide the General Assembly to smart policy solutions," Greenberg said. "With two-thirds of Colorado's farmland ready to transition, we need more young people who are willing to work the land, steward natural resources and feed our communities." NYFC's partners include the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattleman's Association, Colorado State University Extension, Colorado Young Farmers Education Association and Guidestone Colorado and Colorado Land Link.

A second committee meeting will be held at the state capitol on Oct. 6, Greenberg said. The committee will be able to recommend two pieces of legislation to the General Assembly.

Greenberg urged those interested, who were unable to attend either committee hearing, to write committee members in support of NYFC, attend future hearings, and get involved with a local NYFC chapter.

To learn more about the National Young Farmers Coalition, visit NYFC on the web at http://www.youngfarmers.org, and on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. ❖

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