Nourishing budding farmers: For new producers, farm bill offers incentives
CRARY — Ever since he was a child, Adam Leiphon wanted to one day work the land his family has farmed since 1934. Now 31, he has been preparing to take over the 2,500-acre family farm, working alongside his father and uncle since 2009 to learn the ropes of the trade.
“As long as I can remember, we’ve farmed,” said Leiphon, a member of the Ramsey County Farmers Union board. “This is what we do.”
He is among a declining number of young people nationwide who are farming or ranching, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture census data.
Part of the Agricultural Act of 2014, which was signed by President Barack Obama in February after months of debate in the House and Senate, aims to lower the average age of farmers — which currently sits at 57 in North Dakota — through new measures and initiatives.
The new programs and incentives outlined in the farm bill are designed with beginning farmers in mind to help them become more successful.
“Without the backing of a farm bill, it would be harder,” Leiphon said.
The $956 billion farm bill — which lays out the structure of agriculture spending and runs the government’s food stamp, school lunch and breakfast operations and rural housing assistance — builds upon pre-existing programs and boasts new plans to improve the financial security for farmers, like Leiphon, who are just starting out.
About $261 million in new funding over 10 years will allow for expanded access to crop insurance for beginning farmers. With the additional funding, the costs of crop insurance will decrease and additional assistance will be more easily accessible when new crop producers face natural disasters.
Another major component within the bill is the continued funding of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. Nearly $100 million distributed over 10 years will fund the development of training, mentoring and other programs intended to ensure the success of next-generation farmers. The bill expands eligibility within the program to include military veterans.
“We had to get a new generation of farmers going, because it’s very expensive and there is a lot of capital costs to get started,” said U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.
Through the bill, new farmers and ranchers will be identified as a priority to the USDA, making it easier for them to access its programs.
Additionally, older farmers are encouraged to help beginning farmers through the bill’s reauthorization of the Conservation Reserve Program Transition Incentive Program, which gives two extra years of CRP payments to retiring farmers who transition their expiring CRP land to new farmers.
“We have such a rich tradition of family farming — it’s part of who we are as a state,” said U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who also sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. “When you look at the future of farming in our state, we can’t have our farmers being older and older.”
As a way to highlight the various measures available to beginning farmers and ranchers through the new farm bill, the USDA launched a website last week to provide “a one-stop shop to give people a practical resource,” where visitors can learn more about the variety of USDA initiatives designed to help them succeed.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden, who played a major role in building the website, said the website is a repackaging of what already existed on the department’s website, noting the information was not organized very well previously.
“We tried to do it so that no matter your experience you could find what you need,” she said. “It’s for people who have been farming their entire lives and those just starting out.”
Providing information such as how to access educational resources and how to manage risk, Leiphon said using online resources such as the USDA website as well as local resources such as state agriculture extension offices have helped him operate his farm in the last six years.
“I like to do my research, because some of these programs can get complicated,” he said.
Prior to the website’s launch, Harden said she and other USDA officials spent a lot of time gathering input.
“There were a lot of ways we could have organized it, but listening to new people entering agriculture, we tried to group things the way they would think about it in a business sense,” she said.
With a range of options available to Leiphon and other farmers and ranchers like him, he said the knowledge and experience gained from growing up on the farm have helped him the most in preparing to become the sole operator of his farm.
“I have two pretty good individuals to learn from,” said Leiphon, referring to his father and uncle. “I’ve been around (farming) and you feel a connection to it.”