As I said in the last post, it was very difficult to really figure out what was being changed by the Senate Agriculture Committee with respect to beginning farmer programs and how. I have now received clarification from people who are better at reading legislative language than I am, so here’s an update, and I’m aftaid it’s mostly bad news.
Because in previous bills monies had been allocated by year, the $50M allocation for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program for fiscal year 2013 looked to me like an increase in funding over past farm bills. But as it turns out, the $50M seems to be the total ask – meaning it will be allocated, and once it runs out, it’s gone. This means a $10M per year allocation if they choose to space it out, which the language does not require them to do. This is not only far below the $25M per year we were asking for, and was included in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 (Sponsored by Senator Harkin and Co-Sponsored by 4 other members of the Senate Ag. Committee as well as 9 other Senators); it is a significant decrease from the funding provided in the 2008 Farm Bill (which was $75 Million for a four year bill, or a little over $18M per year.
So not only is the Senate Agriculture Committee poised to introduce a bill that cuts funding for this program nearly in half, but there is a possibility that it could be cut further either on the Senate floor or (more likely) within the House version of the farm bill. What we need is an Amendment from an Ag. Committee Member to increase funding for this part of the Beginning Farmer programs in the farm bill.
Other important losses that may affect beginning farmers in the current Senate Ag. Committee Draft include 1) an eradication of the Value Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG) which was funded at $15M in the 2008 farm bill and $40M in the 2002 bill; 2) changes in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) with no corresponding increase in the set-asides for beginning farmers and ranchers (so even if the draft Senate Bill holds, we may be looking at decreases here); 3) as previously mentioned, it looks like funding for socially disadvantaged and limited resource farmers (section 2501) which includes money for beginning farmer programs, and serves individuals who make up a disproportionately large sector of the beginning farmer and rancher community looks like it may be cut entirely; and 4) The Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program has been updated and does not include any of the provisions for encouraging transfers to beginning farmers that were asked for in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 (see above); and 5) The microloan program (a strategy that has shown to be extremely useful in funding beginning farmers) that we asked for in the BFRDP was not included.
Bear in mind again, that the Senate Ag. Committee Markup (scheduled for Wednesday) is a starting point, and while many of us are working hard to get Ag. Committee Members to Amend the draft to increase or at least hold current funding for beginning farmer programs at 2008 levels, there is a good chance that they even if we are successful, there will be cuts made as this bill goes through the process of a Senate Floor vote, a House Markup and Vote, and a Conference Committee process that brings the versions from the two Congressional bodies in line with one another.
You can find a brief, but detailed analysis of the Beginning Farmer provisions in the Draft Senate Ag. Committee Bill at http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/senate-fb-bfr-drilldown/.
And I urge all of you who are concerned about this issue to please call your Senator (to contact your Senator, use the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at: 202-224-3121), and express your support for increased funding for beginning farmer and rancher programs in the 2012 Farm Bill.
I get a half dozen e-mails a day from people who are excited about farming, many of whom are well qualified, but simply can’t find funding. And beginning farmer programs constitute a tiny fraction (I once calculated them at 0.2% (though it’s difficult to get all the information one needs to do such a thing) of total farm bill spending. So please, take just a moment to advocate for these important programs by contacting your Legislator.