Senators introduce bill to recruit and train next generation of farmers
WASHINGTON — The National Young Farmers Coalition applauded today’s introduction of the Next Generation in Agriculture Act by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. The bill would address key barriers to entry for young producers, including access to farmland, training and federal programs.
“As the majority of our nation’s farmers approach retirement age, we need bold action to ensure that their legacy continues,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and executive director of the NYFC. “Young people across the country are stepping up and looking to be the next generation of growers, but they need our help. We applaud Senators Heitkamp and Collins for recognizing the urgency of this moment and leading the way on behalf of young farmers. The future of farming and the success of our rural communities depend on it.”
Sens. Heitkamp and Collins introduce the Next Generation in Agriculture Act at a critical time, as Congress writes the next farm bill amidst troubling demographic and economic trends. Farmers in the U.S. over the age of 65 now outnumber farmers under 35 by a margin of six to one, and U.S. farmland is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of older farmers. Nearly two-thirds of farmland is currently managed by someone over 55, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that over the next five years — the lifespan of the next farm bill — nearly 100 million acres of U.S. farmland are expected to change ownership and will need a new farmer.
The Next Generation in Agriculture Act would address some of the top barriers identified by the 2017 National Young Farmer Survey conducted by NYFC, including challenges accessing farmland, a lack of business training, and difficulty finding and affording skilled labor. Young farmers also cited burdensome paperwork and a lack of familiarity as their top barriers to accessing USDA programs. The bill would make significant progress minimizing those barriers by supporting key portions of NYFC’s Young Farmer Agenda, including:
Reauthorizing and increasing mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, the only federal program exclusively dedicated to training the next generation of farmers and ranchers. BFRDP provides competitive grants to nonprofits and universities to develop new farmer education, extension, outreach and training initiatives, including incubator farm programs, business planning resources, and innovative farm and ranch transfer strategies.
Adding new flexibility for and emphasis on BFRDP projects that address urgent needs, including farmland transition and succession planning for new and retiring farmers and food safety. The bill would also eliminate BFRDP’s matching funds requirement, expanding access for lower-resource organizations that serve high-need populations of farmers.
Creating new positions at USDA to assist young and beginning farmers with technical assistance, help identify resources and opportunities for training, and help coordinate outreach efforts with local stakeholders and service providers.
NYFC called on every senator to endorse the bill and advocate for its inclusion into the next farm bill.