Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota announced the introduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2013 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The two identical bills expand opportunities and remove barriers for beginning farmers and those who wish to pursue a career in agriculture. 

In addition to the bill’s lead sponsors, the following members have signed on as original co-sponsors: Reps. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE-1), Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN-7) in the House, and Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Al Franken (D-MN) in the Senate.

The bill reduces barriers, such as credit and land access issues, that new agriculture entrepreneurs face, and invests in successful new-farmer training programs and grants to help farmers capture more of the retail food dollar through value-added enterprises. 

“We applaud Senator Harkin and Representative Walz and their co-sponsors for reintroducing this legislation and for championing the needs of beginning farmers as Congress heads into another Farm Bill,” says Juli Obudzinski, Policy Associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act helps new farmers get started in agriculture, and invests in programs that have a proven track record of equipping farmers with the tools and skills they need to be successful in their farming career.”

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act is a comprehensive legislative package that invests in critical federal conservation, credit, research, and rural development programs that support opportunities for new farmers and ranchers.  The bill was originally introduced in the previous Congress, and gained the support of 37 members in the House and Senate who signed on to co-sponsor the bill.  In addition to NSAC, over 170 organizations officially endorsed the bill, including the National Farmers Union, National Association of Counties, Organic Valley, and the Farmer-Veteran Coalition.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has been closely involved in the development of this bill, and has worked in close partnership with both Congressional offices along with several farmer advocacy organizations across the country, including NSAC members Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, National Young Farmers’ Coalition, California FarmLink, and Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, among others. 

“With the average age of the U.S. farmer at 57, ensuring that the next generation of American farmers is able to provide the world with a safe, abundant supply of food should be a top priority,” said Congressman Walz, Ranking Member of the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry.  “To accomplish this goal, we must provide our youth with the training and tools they need to seize opportunity and take up farms of their own.  By easing access to lines of credit and land, and creating training programs for new producers, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act works to do just that.”

Most of the bill’s provisions were included in either or both the Senate-passed or House Agriculture Committee passed farm bills in 2012, and the bills’ sponsors are hopeful that they will be able to expand upon these successes in the upcoming farm bill debate later this spring.

"This legislation will help families and individuals across our nation apply their talents, motivation, and dedication to start and continue farm and ranch operations and revitalize rural America,” Senator Harkin said.  “Beginning farmers and ranchers will benefit from practical assistance in this bill, including effective training and mentoring, better access to and careful use of credit, enhanced support for conservation, and help in starting and succeeding in profitable enterprises such as value-added businesses."