The Agricultural Act of 2014 - otherwise known as the Farm Bill - contains news for beginning farmers and ranchers across the country. In total, it invests $444 million into beginning farmer initiatives over the next decade - a 154 percent increase from the 2008 farm bill. These initiatives generally fall under three categories:
1. Beginning farmer and rancher training programs
2. Financial assistance
3. Conservation access and incentives
The following is a brief description of some of the specific initiatives in the Agricultural Act of 2014 that support beginning farmers and ranchers.
1. Beginning farmer and rancher training programs, such as the Building Farmers Training Program offered through CSU Extension, including right here in Chaffee County, are essential to the success of beginning producers. Plenty of passionate and intelligent young farmers adept in growing food are eager to get started; training in business planning, marketing, and financial analysis ensures they have the tools they need to succeed in the long run.
Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program – this program, established by the 2008 farm bill, will be funded at $20 million per year through fiscal year ’18 for a $100 million total, up from $75 million in the 2008 farm bill. This program is the only federal initiative dedicated exclusively to educating beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers. This provision is being hailed as a major success by NSAC and NYFC.
2. Financial Assistance
FSA Microloans – the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) Microloan program was codified. The Microloan program is designed to better serve “the unique financial operating needs of beginning, niche and the smallest of family farm operations” (USDA). It does this by making applications to credit more flexible. In its first year, the program made 3,000 loans.
Direct Farm Ownership Loans – access to this FSA program was made more flexible too, expanding the definition of the required 3 years of experience to better reflect current training structures and opportunities for beginning producers.
Down Payment Program – given the ever-increasing price of land, the FSA Down Payment Program raised the amount it will provide for a down payment on land from $500,000 to $667,000. Also, “Retiring farmers may use this program to transfer their land to future generations” (USDA).
o The above three FSA loan programs aim to increase access to credit with minimal interest rates for beginning farmers who would otherwise have trouble procuring credit from a commercial lender.
Federal Crop Insurance – changes in this bill will make it easier for beginning farmers to access crop insurance programs by giving them a 10 percent reduction on premiums. Monetarily, this accounts for the largest provision for beginning farmers in the bill at $261 million over ten years.
Value-Added Producer Grant – the bill makes clear that beginning producers receive priority in this grant program, which allows producers to create new products and expand markets to increase income.
3. Conservation access and incentives – many changes have been made to Conservation programs in this farm bill, primarily to consolidate and streamline its programs.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) – this new program, which incorporates the existing Farm and Ranchland Protection Program, makes specific previsions to ensure conserved farmland remains in agricultural production, rather than say, be sold to estate buyers. This is language directly from the bill:
The purposes of the program are to… protect the agricultural use and future viability, and related conservation values, of eligible land by limiting nonagricultural use of that land. (Sec. 2301)
This is in response to the growing trend of land in conservation easement with an associated Agriculture priority being bought by nonagricultural landowners. For more on this trend, see the NYFC’s Conservation 2.0 report here.·
Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program (CRP-TIP) – funding for this program has been increased from $25 to $33 million. The Conservation Reserve Program pays farmers and ranchers to remove land from production for the duration of a 10-15 year contract, providing a source of income to producers, protecting and restoring environmentally sensitive land, and increasing future productivity on that parcel. The CRP-TIP program provides two more years of CRP payments to farmers whose contracts are expiring if they sell or rent that CRP land to beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers who will use sustainable grazing practices, resource-conserving cropping systems, or transition to organic production.
· Environmental Quality and Incentives Program (EQIP) – the final bill upholds language in this NRCS-administered program that sets aside funds for beginning farmers and also increases the advanced payment amount from 30 to 50% of a project, such as those in the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative.
Click HERE for more information on the Farm Bill
*written by Guidestone's OSM/VISTA, Gunnar Paulsen