Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota announced the introduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The two identical bills expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture.
The bill reduces barriers, such as credit and land access issues, that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, and invests in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers capture more of the retail food dollar through value-added enterprises.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers.
The bill was originally introduced in the previous Congress, and gained the support of 37 members in the House and Senate who signed on to co-sponsor the bill. In addition to NSAC, over 170 organizations officially endorsed the bill, including the National Farmers Union, National Association of Counties, Organic Valley, and the Farmer-Veteran Coalition.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has been closely involved in the development of this bill, and has worked in close partnership with both Congressional offices along with several farmer advocacy organizations across the country, including NSAC members Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, National Young Farmers’ Coalition, California FarmLink, and Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, among others.
Most of the bill’s provisions were included in either or both the Senate-passed or House Agriculture Committee passed farm bills in 2012, and the bills’ sponsors are hopeful that they will be able to expand upon these successes in the upcoming farm bill debate later this spring.
The bill would create a new microloan program that would make loans up to $35,000 to young, beginning, and veteran farmers seeking capital to help cover start-up costs, such as purchasing seeds or building a greenhouse.
New farmers would also benefit with increased flexibility in meeting loan eligibility requirements for FSA loans to purchase farmland.
The bill would provide funding to jump start an Individual Development Account pilot program aimed at helping beginning farmers with limited financial resources to establish savings accounts that could later be used to cover capital expenditures for a farm or ranch operation, including purchases of land, buildings, equipment, or livestock.