Earlier this month, Congress introduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 [H.R. 3236], a comprehensive marker bill for the 2012 farm bill that highlights federal programs that help support economic opportunities for young and beginning farmers and ranchers. The bill addresses many of the barriers that new agriculture entrepreneurs face such as limited access to land and markets, hyper land price inflation, high input costs, and a lack of sufficient support networks.

The Beginning Farmer Rancher Opportunity Act is a bipartisan and bicameral bill introduced in the House by Representatives Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and an identical companion bill will be introduced by Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in the Senate next week once they return from recess.  There are additional members of both houses, including those that sit on the Agriculture Committees, that have indicated their support for the bill and will likely be signing on as co-sponsors shortly after introduction.

"We applaud Congressmen Walz and Fortenberry and Senator Harkin for introducing this legislation which is so important to the future of farming in this country," said Juli Obudzinski, a policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  "Congress should include it as a critical, forward-looking component of the upcoming farm bill."

The bill is a result of strategic collaboration among many individuals and farmer advocacy organizations, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and many NSAC member groups, including Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, National Young Farmers’ Coalition, California FarmLink, and Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, among others.  Over the past two years, NSAC and its allies have met with numerous officials at various USDA agencies, many legislative offices both in-district and on Capitol Hill, and with other farm and membership groups to solicit input on the bill’s provisions in order to make them as strong and targeted as possible.

"The scope of this bill represents a historical investment in beginning farmers.  The programs will nurture the next generation of family farmers by building human capital and assets,” says Steve Schwartz, founder of California FarmLink, an NSAC member group which was one of the first in the country to design and implement a successful Individual Development Accounts program to help new farmers save money and accumulate sufficient capital to begin farming.  “The Act builds a foundation to develop jobs and farm businesses in rural communities with a very small investment of government funds."

The bill includes provisions that cut across six titles of the Farm Bill, including proposals that address conservation program set asides and incentives, access to credit, rural development, research and extension, and access to crop insurance and risk management.