Legislation Introduced to Benefit Beginning Farmers

Agri News


Walz, Harkin introduce legislation to help beginning farmers

By Janet Kubat Willette

The average Minnesota farmer is no spring chicken.

Mr. Average Minnesota Farmer is 52.9 years old, according to the Census of Agriculture. And while the number of farmers older than 65 keeps rising, the number of farmers age 34 and younger is in decline.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, hope to increase the number of younger farmers. The duo have introduced legislation to help young people enter agriculture. Other sponsors include Rep. Betty McCollum, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken, all Minnesota Democrats.

"We have to make sure America's next generation of family farmers have the support they need to continue providing a safe, abundant food supply," Walz said. "This legislation is a smart, effective way to support our local economies and create local jobs."

This is the second time Walz has sponsored beginning farmer legislation. He authored similar legislation in the 2008 farm bill.

There are certain impediments to getting into agriculture, Walz said. He wants to ensure that the federal government has good programs for young people who want a career in production agriculture. The legislation he introduced includes conservation, credit, education and risk management provisions.

The legislation is important, said Owatonna farmer Katie Felland, 39.

Felland started farming in 2008 and says federal support for beginning farmers is critical because start up costs for farming can be overwhelming and because the nation needs more small farmers growing healthy food.

Tyler Benson, 26, of Rushford, can attest to the value of the federal loans for beginning farmers. Benson took out two loans through the Farm Service Agency beginning farmer loan program, one in 2005 and another in 2006, to buy beef cattle and a tractor.

"Basically, if I didn't have the loan I wouldn't have got started," he said.

Walz said he's heard success stories from the beginning farmer provisions in the 2008 farm bill and he hopes the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act makes it into the next farm bill.

Some may question how the general public benefits from these programs, Walz said, and his answer is that it's about continuing to provide a safe, affordable, abundant food supply.

"I think there's an understanding that this is too important not to try and figure out how to get folks into it," he said.

Yet, conditions for writing the next farm bill are anything but ideal. The farm bill is unusually being written out of the public eye and its funding is tied up with the super committee, Walz said, which has to make funding cut recommendations by Thanksgiving.

"I think there's at least a movement or attempt to try to get some of these bigger bills in here and get them done while we have some leverage to do it," he said.

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Agri News


Farm Beginnings program critical for beginning farmer

By Janet Kubat Willette

OWATONNA, Minn. — Farm Beginnings was invaluable for city girl turned farmer Katie Felland.

Felland and her family operate O-Wata-Farm just north of Owatonna, where they grow fruit and sell farm-fresh eggs.

She learned about Farm Beginnings, a Land Stewardship Program developed to train new farmers, from a program alumni in nearby Clinton Falls and signed up to learn more about running her own farm.

The program leaders were fantastic and are only an email away, even though it's been three years since she graduated from Farm Beginnings. The program was helpful in business planning and making her think about how a farm would fit into her life.

"We wouldn't be able to do what we're doing without it," Felland said.

The people she met while in the course and through other LSP field days have become resources for her, people to commiserate with when things aren't going well or to ask questions of when considering trying something new. She feels a sense of community among the farmers who all want to farm sustainably and are always willing to listen and share ideas. There are several farmers in the same stage of life she's in.

Katie, 39, grew up in La Crosse, but her husband, Jack, grew up in Mora and wanted to raise his family on a farm. They found a 10-acre farm place just north of Owatonna. Jack is a family physician and the tractor driver. Katie is the farmer. She's also the mother of three, Olivia, 12, Max, 10, and Lucy, 8, and a yoga instructor.

The children are responsible for chores before heading off to school.

Katie had the idea of starting an apple orchard before she entered Farm Beginnings. There isn't an orchard near Owatonna, she said.

They began selling eggs, and planting trees and berries in 2008. They have 200 apple trees, which they planted over three years. They have 15 varieties including Zestar!, Fireside, Sweet 16, State Fair and Honeycrisp. They harvested their first apples this year.

They have everbearing and June bearing strawberries and raspberries that ripen in summer and fall.

They operate a CSA for their eggs, delivering them to a central pickup location in downtown Owatonna weekly. The chickens are free range or on pasture. At any given time, they have 75 to 130 laying hens. In summer, they partner with another farm to provide berries and eggs to their customers.

When weather cooperates, they plant popcorn and pumpkins.

All their produce is organic.

Katie has taken to farming.

"I love it," she said. "It allows me to be home with my kids."

They make changes in the operation every year, adjusting it to fit their family's lifestyle.

For Katie, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011 is integral to improving the nation's health. So many health issues can be traced back to what is eaten, she said.

The programs and funding in the beginning farmer bill help people start farming and the more small farmers raising healthy food, the better, she said.

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Agri News


Benson has long dreamed of farming

By Janet Kubat Willette

RUSHFORD, Minn. — Tyler Benson knew he wanted to be a farmer when he was just a boy playing in his sandbox.

Benson, now 26, runs a 30-cow commercial beef herd and raises 35 acres of soybeans, 30 acres of corn and 25 acres of hay. In the summer, he raises feeder pigs to finishing size for family consumption.

He does construction work to earn income to support his farming. He also trades labor for machinery with his grandfather, uncles and neighbors. As a young farmer, labor is his greatest asset.

Benson milked cows for his uncle Ron Sand and grandfather, Richard Sand, while in high school. It was during this time that he purchased his first beef cattle for showing in 4-H and FFA.

After high school, he studied dairy science at Northeast Iowa Community College in Calmar before coming back to Minnesota to work for another uncle, Dave Olson of Lewiston. He worked for Olson for four years until a farm accident ended his milking career. He sliced his arm while catching a calf, cutting the tendons for his two outside fingers on his right hand and damaging the tendon of his middle finger.

It was a big bump in the road, but it didn't deter his desire to farm. But starting to farm on his own hasn't been without challenges. It's overwhelming how much money it takes to get started — from input costs to surprise repair bills.

"If you kind of come into this not knowing what you're going to do, you can find yourself in a hole real fast," Benson said.

At the end of the year, he pays off his crop loan and determines what's left for him. He tries to keep reinvesting in his operation, installing fences for cattle and redoing waterways in the fields he rents from his parents. His goal is to get to the point where farming is a major part of his income.

His parents, Karen and Mike Benson, purchased a place in the country with 60 acres of land. The farm place has two houses and other outbuildings. Benson rents the land from his parents. He rents additional land from others who support beginning farmers, but said it's hard to find land he can afford in the tight market.

He wonders if landowners could receive a tax credit for renting out land to younger farmers. He understands that they have costs, too. It's hard — if not impossible — for beginning farmers to pay $385 per acre rent.

He supports the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act because it's nice to know something is being done to help young farmers. Young people need additional help in the first few years to get going, Benson said.

Without new farmers, where is the food going to come from?

At the same time, he said it's extremely important to have experienced farmers to call on for advice. He also works with a farm business management instructor to help manage and improve his farm business.

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