Walz, Harkin introduce legislation to help beginning farmers
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 11/28/2011 11:16 AM
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.