WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2013 – As House and Senate farm bill conferees prepare for their first official public meeting next Wednesday, a group of bipartisan Representatives and Senators today delivered two “Dear Colleague” letters to House and Senate leadership earlier today.
Reps. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., and Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Senator Al Franken, D-Minn., led 37 of members of Congress in calling for a farm bill that with programs meant to break down barriers that make it difficult to enter agriculture.
The Senate letter urged farm bill conferees to “maintain the strongest possible support for beginning farmers and ranchers through targeted programs that provide new and young farmers with education and training, access to credit, and access to affordable land with support for conservation programs.”
Specifically, both letters call on conferees to adopt the following provisions in any farm bill negotiations:
- funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at no less than the House-passed level of $20 million per year;
- the House-passed provisions that expand credit options for new farmers, including an authorization for USDA to make microloans for beginning and veteran farmers and to launch an intermediary lending pilot modeled after other successful cooperative lending programs such as the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program;
- the Senate-passed funding levels for the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentives Program of $50 million over the life of the farm bill in order to help beginning farmers access land from retiring farmers; and
- the House-passed provision that increases the amount of funding that a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer can receive up front through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Many of the members who signed onto both letters in the House and Senate had previously demonstrated their support for beginning farmers by cosponsoring the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, which was introduced earlier this year by Reps. Tim Walz, D-Minn., Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., in the House and by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in the Senate. Both Rep. Walz and Sen. Harkin are on the farm bill conference committee and will be instrumental in protecting the gains in each bill that expand opportunities for new farmers.
Earlier this month, over 130 organizations from across the country delivered a similar letter to Congressional leaders, urging their support for beginning farmer programs and policies in any farm bill negotiation. Several of these programs have been stranded without funding since the 2008 Farm Bill expired last fall – including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the CRP Transition Incentives Program. Both of these programs have been on hold for over a year now, and beginning farmers across the country are starting to feel the impact of the loss of this significant resource.
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