National Sign-on Letter to Support Beginning and Minority Farmers and Ranchers

November 12, 2012 The Honorable Debbie Stabenow Chairwoman U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition 328A Russell SOB Washington, D.C. 20510 The Honorable Pat Roberts Ranking Member U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition 328A Russell SOB Washington, D.C. 20510 The Honorable Frank Lucas Chairman U.S. House Committee on Agriculture 1301 Longworth HOB Washington, D.C. 20515 The Honorable Collin Peterson Ranking Member U.S. House Committee on Agriculture 1305 Longworth HOB Washington, D.C. 20515 Dear Chairwoman Stabenow, Chairman Lucas and Ranking Members Roberts and Peterson, Opportunities in the agricultural sector are thriving and strong, despite current disaster-related setbacks. The contributions of farm families are the economic and social lifeblood of many towns, cities and counties through-out America. Agriculture is a jobs creator, where the dedication and commitment of farmers and ranchers ultimately feed, clothe, and fuel our nation. Yet as a profession farming and ranching continues to be one of the most difficult careers to enter. Even with encouraging market conditions in many parts of agriculture – be it local, regional or international; or organic, conventional or niche – those who want to farm face daunting challenges. Access to land, high input and start-up costs, and insufficient training and networking options can deter prospective new agricultural producers. The 2008 Farm Bill made significant progress in addressing some of the struggles beginning farmers and ranchers wrestle with. The bill included improved beginning farmer conservation and credit measures, and more training and assistance support, than ever before. The inability to date to pass a new farm bill so far this year, however, has brought a dozen critical programs to a screeching halt. As of October 1, many of the most innovative, forward looking farm bill programs have at least temporarily been terminated. Two of those programs have proven their ability to help new farmers and ranchers -- the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program. These two programs are uniquely situated to help new agricultural producers. The programs enable community-based organizations and educational institutions to provide and strengthen local training and assistance efforts that support new farmers and ranchers. Considering the broad diversity of agriculture and regional variability this decentralized approach is smart and practical. The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) awarded 145 projects in the past four years providing nearly $75 million to grow a base of new farmers and ranchers. From community groups to land grant universities, this program has reached 48 states and, according to USDA, by 2011, had served 38,000 beginning farmers and ranchers. While 145 projects have received awards, 528 projects have requested support since 2009, demonstrating that there remains an unmet need. The Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program is specifically aimed at one of the exploding areas of growth in agriculture -- farmers and ranchers from communities of color, first nations people and military veterans. Individuals in these communities, who are often just getting started, come to agriculture with very distinctive and specific needs such as language barriers, cultural differences, and service disabilities. In the most recent three years for which data is available, 158 grants worth $45 million were made to groups and university programs in 34 states around the country in both rural and urban communities. These competitive grant programs are the only federal programs exclusively dedicated to training beginning and minority farmers and ranchers. The projects funded through these programs make a real and lasting difference for new farmers and ranchers. Allowing these programs to lapse within a stalled farm bill is unacceptable and irresponsible. In a new farm bill Congress has the opportunity to re-invest in these highly successfully and much in-demand programs. We appreciate the fact that the Senate-passed and House Committee-passed farm bills include some mandatory funding for both programs but strongly urge you to increase the funding level for each program to $100 million over 5 years ($20 million annually) during negotiations over the final bill. We, the undersigned organizations, request that Congress advance a 2012 Farm Bill, before the end of the calendar year, which helps foster the next generation of agriculture producers. You have the support in the countryside, the need is real, and the time to act is now. Public policy that supports and promotes new farmers and ranchers is an investment worth making. Sincerely, Cc: Senate and House Agriculture Committee Members Sen. Harry Reid Sen. Mitch McConnell Sen. Dick Durbin Rep. John Boehner Rep. Eric Cantor Rep. Nancy Pelosi
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