Next Generation in Agriculture Act supports young, beginning farmers

Wisconsin State Farmer
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on March 22, 2017.(Ron Sachs/CNP/Sipa USA/TNS)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced a bipartisan bill on April 26 to support programs that help new and beginning farmers and ranchers enter and remain in the industry, build the next generation of farmers, and feed the country and the world.

The Next Generation in Agriculture Act aims to ensure a younger generation of agriculture workers have the education and support they need to begin a career in farming and ranching.

Across the country, the share of farmers age 65 and older has increased from 14 percent in 1945, to more than 31 percent in 2012, according to a news release. The percentage of new farmers has declined since 1982, and without efforts to cultivate the next generation of farmers, rural economies could suffer.

“The future of our country’s agriculture industry, a vital component of our economy, is dependent on energizing, supporting, and educating the next generation of farmers,” said Collins. “Our legislation would ensure that new farmers and ranchers have the tools and firsthand experience necessary to become established in this field by facilitating apprenticeships with older farmers, assisting with the acquisition of land from retiring farmers, and providing critical entrepreneurship and business training.  We encourage our colleagues to support this bipartisan bill to help new farmers build on our nation’s rich farming tradition.”

“Farming and ranching is a way of life in North Dakota — but to ensure it stays that way, we have to support young and beginning farmers and ranchers,” Heitkamp said.  “We must do more to cultivate the next generation of family farmers, and that’s what this bipartisan bill is about – giving young Americans the tools they need to succeed in agriculture and keep our rural communities strong.  With the number of new farmers and ranchers falling – and our current population of farmers aging — this bill would take important steps to maintain North Dakota’s strong tradition of family farming and help new farmers and ranchers launch successful careers.”  

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) applauded the ‘Next Generation in Agriculture Act.’ The bill would address key barriers to entry for young producers, including access to farmland, training, and federal programs.

"As the majority of our nation’s farmers approach retirement age, we need bold action to ensure that their legacy continues,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and Executive Director of the National Young Farmers Coalition. “Young people across the country are stepping up and looking to be the next generation of growers, but they need our help. We applaud Senators Heitkamp and Collins for recognizing the urgency of this moment and leading the way on behalf of young farmers. The future of farming and the success of our rural communities depend on it."

The Next Generation in Agriculture Act would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) more resources to help young and beginning farmers become established in the field of agriculture. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Extend the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development (BFRD) program beyond 2018, and would increase the USDA’s support for the program to $30 million in fiscal years 2019-2020, $40 million for fiscal years 2021-2022, and $50 million for fiscal year 2023 and each fiscal year thereafter.
  • Emphasize areas of the BFRD program that would include farmers and ranchers who are looking to transition their farming operation to a young or beginning farmer.
  • Change the definition in the crop insurance title to define a beginning farmer and rancher as having farmed less than 10 years opposed to 5.
  • Create a permanent National Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coordinator and Agricultural Youth Coordinator at the USDA, and direct state USDA offices to designate an employee as the state beginning farmer and rancher coordinator.
  • Direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a next generation agriculture technology challenge competition to provide an incentive for the development of innovative technology that removes barriers to entry in the marketplace for beginning farmers and ranchers.

The BFRD program plays a key role in helping the next generation become established in agriculture by providing grants to organizations for education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers.

The NYFC called on every Senator to endorse the bill and advocate for its inclusion into the next farm bill.