Farmers Express Support for Beginning Farmer & Rancher Opportunity Act & Soil Health Initiatives
Le SUEUR, MINN. — The next Farm Bill should emphasize support for beginning farmers and agricultural conservation, said farmer-members of the Land Stewardship Project during a meeting today with Tim Walz, the U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s First Congressional District. Walz and a dozen farmers met on the Le Sueur farm of Tom Nuessmeier. The Congressman met with the farmers to discuss priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill, which he and other Congressional agriculture leaders are beginning to draft this fall.
One of Walz’s priorities in coming months will be the introduction of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, which has bipartisan support in Congress. The bill aims to build upon the policies championed by Walz and LSP in previous Farm Bills that have helped support innovative, community-based beginning farmer initiatives in dozens of communities across the U.S., including here in Minnesota. For example, the Farm Bill’s original Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program was modeled after the Farm Beginnings course, which was developed by LSP in Minnesota. The proposed Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act creates dedicated funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
“There are so many barriers facing beginning farmers,” said Betsy Allister, a Northfield, Minn., farmer and Farm Beginnings graduate. “LSP’s Farm Beginnings program helped us create a solid business plan and network with established farmers. Now we’ve been farming for eight years and we’re able to support our family without off-farm jobs, plus, we love what we do. We need more farmers on the land, which means we need long-term dedicated funding for community-based programs like the Farm Beginnings course. These programs help people from all backgrounds get started and succeed in farming.”
The proposed legislation would also launch a national matched savings asset-building and financial training program for beginning farmers. LSP has implemented a similar matched savings account program for beginning farmers through its Journeyperson Course.
“The matched savings account is a huge help for beginning farmers who want to build long-term financial viability,” said Pete Skold, a beginning farmer from Webster, Minn., and a graduate of the Journeyperson Course. “It allowed us to be able to save and buy a new mulch layer and planter for our vegetables without piling up debt. Creating and funding a nationwide matched savings account program is an excellent way of directly supporting beginning farmers.”
“We need to do everything we can to promote access to land, help make credit readily available, and fund world-class research and education programs for the next generation of farmers,” said Walz. “Together, we accomplished a good deal toward this end through the 2014 Farm Bill, and we must keep that momentum going. The soon-to-be introduced Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act will help to ensure the next Farm Bill is truly one for the next generation.”
During today’s meeting, LSP farmer-members also discussed the need for federal programs to support farmers’ efforts to build soil health and put in place other conservation practices.
“Farmers need Farm Bill support to plant cover crops and put in place more diverse crop rotations, and that will build the health of their soil, which has environmental benefits for everyone in the state,” said Nuessmeier, who utilizes cover cropping and other methods on his crop and livestock operation near Le Sueur.
Rep. Walz agreed to work with LSP in championing soil health by supporting working lands conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program.
“Farmers are some of our best conservationists; it just makes good business sense,” said Walz. “In the next Farm Bill, we must continue to provide farmers the tools they need to promote the sustainable health of our soil and resources. Those tools include both reserve and working land programs, tailored to achieve significant conservation outcomes along with the promotion of precision agricultural techniques that both benefit the environment and the farmer’s bottom line.”