As Farm Bill discussions start to heat up in Congress, the Capitol is buzzing about another bill intended to provide young farmers support they need to be successful. Introduced by Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Next Generation in Agriculture Act is intended to encourage young people to make a career in production agriculture.
“The average age of a farmer in this country is just under 60 years old. I think when we had good times, we saw a lot of young people considering agriculture. Now the times are a little tough and commodity prices are lower and net farm income’s down it's harder and harder to convince young people to come to the farm,” Heitkamp told AgriTalk host Chip Flory. “What's interesting is, it’s also getting harder to convince their parents to bring them home, because they don't want their kids to struggle, the way they've struggled through the cycles. But if we don't have young farmers, our culture of community and family based farming is going to go away.”
Heitkamp said she’s just as concerned about a sustainable workforce in agriculture as she is in almost every other profession ranging from trades to technology.
"I am very concerned about growing a workforce and opportunities for young farmers and so this [bill] is a really high priority for me,” she said.
In short, the bill would provide baseline funding for beginning farmer and rancher programs and would raise the amount of money allocated to those programs over 10 years.
“What we hope to do is model in and transition some of the programs that we currently have so that we get better rates and better opportunities for young farmers,” she explained.
According to Heitkamp, historically farming is something that is generational, often learned from your parents, so there’s an idea that there’s always going to be a pipeline young producers can access for technical assistance, but that’s not really the case.
“We have to have programs that really help beginning farmers and beginning ranchers have the technical expertise that they need to do the job,” she said.
When looking at barriers to entry, Heitkamp said the biggest one is risk.
“I mean, when you're telling [a young farmer] ‘Okay, you go out and spend a million dollars and maybe it'll rain and if it doesn't you’re on your own,’ that's why we need this farm bill, that's why we need a crop insurance program that works, but we also need to realize and recognize the interest of young and beginning farmers,” she said. “That's our future.”
Next Generation in Agriculture Act At A Glance:
- Doubles the annual funding for beginning farmer and beginning rancher programs. Heitkamp said this includes grants for education, mentoring and technical assistance for young and beginning farmers.
- Doubles the number of years someone is considered a beginning farmer. “I think we have this idea of what's the beginning farmer and, I think we we've got to make opportunities for those 30 year olds, not just the 20 year olds,” she said.
- Creates a permanent position in USDA to take a look at how we can develop these programs and remove barriers of entry.