I'm pleased to announce that The National Farmers Union (NFU) has lent it's support to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 as part of its official Farm Bill Platform. Delegates at NFU’s 110th Anniversary Convention in La Vista, Neb., approved the new 2012 NFU policy as well as eight special orders of business, one of which specifically endorsed this important piece of legislation. I'm grateful that they have joined this effort, and ask you to do the same (to learn how, see below). The Special Order states that NFU will promote the Act. And it goes on to say "Agriculture Tom Vilsack has stated a goal of establishing 100,000 new farmers and ranchers. In order to continue to address these critical concerns, additional legislation and federal action, including the 2012 Farm Bill, must be enacted and funded to meet the unique needs and barriers facing beginning farmers and ranchers and ensure they can enter and sustain farming or ranching as a viable livelihood. The ability of the next generation of family farmers to continue to produce food and fiber is critical to the economy, health, and security of our nation and our local communities. The average age of the American farmer is currently 57 and increasing, and it is estimated a significant amount of current farmland will change hands in the upcoming years due to the aging farm population." I am extremely pleased to know that this respected pro-farmer organization supports the Act. Along with a coalition of excellent partners brought together by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) I worked hard to help make suggestions for the Bill's that I feel are appropriate, fair, and help to ameliorate some of the struggles beginning farmers face in accessing federal programs. I worked particularly hard to help include new provisions that encourage the development of beginning farmer vocational training and rehabilitation programs for returning military veterans, as well as to maintain or increase funding levels for essential programs that support new farmer development. Within the current political climate it is difficult to justify funding for government support programs, but I believe this is one that is not only essential, but significantly underfunded. I believe it is essential to our nation's economy, the health of rural and urban areas, the health of individuals, and that of both our environment and our national culture that we consider increasing government spending for these programs. Increasing spending for anything is an unpopular idea among many people these days, and for legitimate reasons. But for those of you concerned with runaway federal spending and too much money being borrowed at a time of deficits I offer these statistics: I have estimated that Federal Beginning Farmer and Rancher Spending under this Act would constitute less than 0.1% of current Farm Bill Spending. Approximately 65% of Farm Bill spending currently goes to "nutrition programs" (food stamps, WIC, school lunch programs, etc); and between 10 and 12% goes to each of the following: commodity subsidies, crop insurance, and conservation programs. And the vast majority of that 33% goes to the largest farmers and landholders in the country. In my opinion we should be supporting beginning farmers and ranchers at a much higher level than we currently are, and we could do so without making a significant dent in current farm support programs. I urge you all to write and/or call your legislators and to ask that they support the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Act of 2011. If you don’t have your Senator or Reps. phone number, e-mail, or mailing address - use the Capitol Switchboard which is (202) 224- 3121. If you want to know what's in the Bill and why many of us think is important, please refer to earlier posts on this site including: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/beginning-farmer-opportunity-act-ask-your-legislators-to-co-sponsor-today/ http://www.beginningfarmers.org/beginning-farmer-and-rancher-opportunity-act-of-2011/ and http://www.beginningfarmers.org/beginning-farmer-rancher-opportunity-act-introduced-in-congress/ We need to support beginning farmers and ranchers in order to maintain a viable, vital, economically important, and healthy food and farm system in this country. Please join NFU and Beginningfarmers.org (among many others) in promoting this goal by making your voice heard. If you would like more information or want to know how to help, please feel free to get in touch by using http://www.beginningfarmers.org/contact-us/. Comments come directly to me when you use this feature of the site. Taylor Reid - Beginningfarmers.org founder and administrator.