Collins, Heitkamp Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Young & Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

Average Age of ME and ND Farmers is Nearly 60 Years Old, Reinforcing Need to Support and Boost Young & Beginning Farmers

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) today introduced a bipartisan bill to support programs that help new and beginning farmers and ranchers enter and remain in the industry, build the next generation of farmers, and feed the country and the world.

 

The Next Generation in Agriculture Act aims to ensure a younger generation of agriculture workers have the education and support they need to begin a career in farming and ranching.

 

The average age of a farmer is 57 years old in both Maine and North Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  Across the country, the share of farmers age 65 and older has increased from 14 percent in 1945, to more than 31 percent in 2012.  The percentage of new farmers has declined since 1982, and without efforts to cultivate the next generation of farmers, rural economies could suffer.

 

“The future of our country’s agriculture industry, a vital component of our economy, is dependent on energizing, supporting, and educating the next generation of farmers,” said Senator Collins.  “Our legislation would ensure that new farmers and ranchers have the tools and firsthand experience necessary to become established in this field by facilitating apprenticeships with older farmers, assisting with the acquisition of land from retiring farmers, and providing critical entrepreneurship and business training.  We encourage our colleagues to support this bipartisan bill to help new farmers build on our nation’s rich farming tradition.”

 

“Farming and ranching is a way of life in North Dakota – but to ensure it stays that way, we have to support young and beginning farmers and ranchers,” Senator Heitkamp said.  “We must do more to cultivate the next generation of family farmers, and that’s what this bipartisan bill is about – giving young Americans the tools they need to succeed in agriculture and keep our rural communities strong.  With the number of new farmers and ranchers falling – and our current population of farmers aging – this bill would take important steps to maintain North Dakota’s strong tradition of family farming and help new farmers and ranchers launch successful careers.”  

 

“Senator Collins’ support for beginning farmer training programs reflects her strong commitment to the next generation of American farmers, and that’s a commitment to strong rural communities in Maine and across the country,” said Ted Quaday, Executive Director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

 

"The beginning farmer and rancher programs funded through the farm bill have supported so many young farmers here in Maine,” said Melissa Law of Bumbleroot Farm and organizer for the Southern Maine Young Farmers Coalition.  “Almost all of our peers have benefited from the educational programs, mentorships, and business classes made possible by this funding, and we're so grateful that Senator Collins is working to make sure the next generation of farmers in our state has access to these resources.  Without it, the future of farming in Maine and across the country would be in jeopardy."

 

“We’re grateful for Senator Collins’ outspoken support for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP),” said Joshua Girard of Girard Farm and organizer for the Southern Maine Young Farmers Coalition.  Without the training I received through this program, I may not be farming today.  MOFGA’s Journeyperson Program gave me the skills I needed to start a successful farm and access the programs that were essential to me as a new farmer.”

 

"Maine is a bright spot in agriculture, with the number of farms increasing.  Many of these new farmers have limited experience in agriculture, so training is very important,” said Mary Castonguay of Castonguay Ayrshires LLC, Organic Valley Producer and member of National Farmers Union Policy Committee.  “It is essential that the next farm bill provides training programs and learning opportunities for young and beginning farmers, so that Maine farms can continue to grow."

 

“Maine Farmland Trust is proud to support this bill, which will help beginning farmers access the critical resources they need to thrive, and provide tools to facilitate succession planning and land transfer,” said Amanda Beal, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust.  “Our federal agriculture policies must offer the next generation of American farmers the opportunity to support their families, feed our communities, revitalize rural economies, and protect our shared natural resources.  This bill is an important step toward achieving that vision.”

 

"The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program helps fund programs that make farming in Maine desirable and possible for so many young farmers,” said Alaena Robbins of Broadturn Farm and organizer for the Southern Maine Young Farmers Coalition.  “Senator Collins’ support means that young farmers will have access to resources and support that will ensure that more farms exist and are successful businesses."  

 

The Next Generation in Agriculture Act would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) more resources to help young and beginning farmers become established in the field of agriculture. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Extend the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development (BFRD) program beyond 2018, and would increase the USDA’s support for the program to $30 million in fiscal years 2019-2020, $40 million for fiscal years 2021-2022, and $50 million for fiscal year 2023 and each fiscal year thereafter.
  • Emphasize areas of the BFRD program that would include farmers and ranchers who are looking to transition their farming operation to a young or beginning farmer.
  • Change the definition in the crop insurance title to define a beginning farmer and rancher as having farmed less than 10 years opposed to 5.
  • Create a permanent National Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coordinator and Agricultural Youth Coordinator at the USDA, and direct state USDA offices to designate an employee as the state beginning farmer and rancher coordinator.
  • Direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a next generation agriculture technology challenge competition to provide an incentive for the development of innovative technology that removes barriers to entry in the marketplace for beginning farmers and ranchers.

 

The BFRD program plays a key role in helping the next generation become established in agriculture by providing grants to organizations for education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers. Click HERE for more information on the program.

 

Click HERE for more information about the Next Generation in Agriculture Act.