Ten Senators introduced the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act of 2011, a comprehensive bill intended for inclusion in the upcoming farm bill that highlights federal programs supporting economic opportunities for young and beginning farmers and ranchers.  The bill addresses many of the barriers that new agriculture entrepreneurs face such as limited access to land and markets, hyper land price inflation, high input costs, and a lack of sufficient support networks.

The Beginning Farmer Rancher Opportunity Act was introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Ind., along with nine original co-sponsors, including Sens. Robert Casey, D-Pa.; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Tim Johnson, D-S.D.; and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

An identical companion bill (H.R.3236) was introduced in the House by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN-1) and Jeff Fortenbery (R-NE-1) in October.  Additional members of Congress have signed on in support of the bill, including Reps. Leonard Boswell (D-IA-3), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1), Gerald Connolly (D-VA-11), Sam Farr (D-CA-17), Earl Blumenhauer (D-OR-3), Betty McCollum (D-MN-4), Mike McIntyre (D-NC-7), and David Loebsack (D-IA-2).  There are additional members of both houses and parties that have indicated their support for the bill and will likely be signing on as co-sponsors.

"We applaud Sen.Harkin and his colleagues for introducing this legislation which is so important to the future of farming in this country," said Juli Obudzinski, a policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  "The bill pulls together the best ideas from around the country for advancing new farming opportunities by building on the progress of previous farm bills, and stepping up the pace of reform."

In his introductory remarks, Senator Harkin noted, "One of the most hopeful occurrences in rural America is when someone is able to get started in farming or ranching and go on to build a successful operation.  We need more beginning farmers and ranchers in America to secure critical supplies of food, fuel, and fiber for the future; to care for and conserve our soil, water, and other natural resources; and to join in the life of healthy and vibrant local communities.”

The bill builds upon a strategic collaboration among many farmer advocacy organizations, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and many NSAC member groups, including Land Stewardship Project, Center for Rural Affairs, National Young Farmers’ Coalition, California FarmLink, and Michigan Organic Food and Farm Alliance, among others.  Over the past two years, NSAC and its allies have met with numerous officials at various USDA agencies, many legislative offices both in-district and on Capitol Hill, and with other farm and membership groups to solicit input on the bill’s provisions in order to make them as strong and targeted as possible.

The bill includes provisions that cut across six titles of the Farm Bill, including proposals that address conservation program set asides and incentives, access to credit, rural development, research and extension, and access to crop insurance and other risk management tools.  These proposals aim to address many of the barriers that new farmers face, and will create real economic opportunities for the next generation of farmers.

"With the new Farm Bill, Congress has a great opportunity to enact a comprehensive beginning farmer and rancher initiative that breaks down barriers to entry and gives real support to ensure the effective start-up and success of new small and mid-scale producers across the country," said Obudzinski.  "This bill establishes a beginning farmer federal policy platform we believe will garner wide support both on Capitol Hill and at the grassroots level."

For more information on the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Act of 2011, visit NSAC’s website.