Vilsack wants program reforms for beginning farmers in next Farm Bill

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2012- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the 150th Ag Outlook Forum today that  creative solutions need to be included in the next Farm Bill for beginning farmers and ranchers. 

“As we shape the Farm Bill, it's important we provide due consideration to people wanting to start farming,” Vilsack said. “We have to address barriers to the transfer of land buried in our tax system.”

Particularly, he explained that the income tax is creating a land lock that discourages the transfer of land during landowners' lifetimes. Once the landowner dies, the tax liability is lifted for his or her children. However, Vilsack said this creates a trend of producers holding onto their land until their children in urban areas with separate careers inherit that land, which they often sell. 

He suggested an income tax break for landowners who choose to sell their land to a beginning farmer. 

“America will need more farmers, ranchers and growers,” he said. “This Farm Bill is probably more significant to young people in America considering agriculture for their future.”

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program Development Program gives grants to organizations that provide education and outreach to beginning farmers. The 2008 Farm Bill gave it a mandatory funding level of $75 million, but its baseline runs out this year. Although a budget reduction is inevitable, Vilsack said the Farm Bill should be able to form systems that encourage young people to start farming and help beginning farmers be competitive.

“In addition to Beginning Farmer and Rancher programs, it needs to respond to the unique credit and risk management needs of beginning farmers,” he said. 

“We'll have less money,” he noted. “How much less is still to be determined.”

While acknowledging that many areas of the Farm Bill would be reduced, he noted that research should be one area that grows to “meet the food, fiber and fuel demands of the future.” 

He also highlighted the need for immigration reform in the agriculture community to meet these demands with a labor workforce. 

“The sad reality is that crops will be raised in the country this year that may not be harvested simply because there is not the workforce to get it done," he said. “We need comprehensive immigration reform now.”

He referenced the tens of millions of dollars in crops lost last year in Georgia after the state enacted laws to address illegal immigration. Georgia's agriculture commissioner Gary Black said crops died because of an inadequate guest worker program. 

“This country needs its elected political leaders to have political courage to do what is right for the country and agriculture by fixing this broken system,” Vilsack said. “If you talk to producers, they'll tell you there is a need for this labor supply.”

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