On more specifics in the bill…

“The bill cuts across six titles of the farm bill: conservation, credit provisions, rural development, research, crop insurance and the miscellaneous title.

“Among the bigger proposals is the Conservation Reserve Program-Transition Incentives Program (CRP-TIP). The bill would reauthorize this program, which is very important for farmers wanting to use conservation practices and sustainable methods for production.

“A lot of acres are expected to be coming back into production from expiring CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) contracts. This program would allow a landowner to lease those acres to a beginning farmer and get two extra years of rental payments. There are some contingencies: they have to lease to a beginning farmer who has to practice conservation-based sustainable production methods.

“Under the credit provisions, a pilot program was authorized in the 2008 farm bill to establish ‘Individual Development Accounts’ targeted for beginning farmers and ranchers. The legislation in the books but was never appropriated any funding.

“So, we propose to reauthorize the program exactly as written and allocate mandatory funding so the program would actually get started. That would provide grants to organizations where young farmers would apply for matched savings accounts. I believe it’s modeled on programs where people save up down payments to buy a house. So, every dollar the farmer would save would be matched through the program.

“There are organizations that have implemented (similar) programs. One is California FarmLink, which has been really successful in helping farmers save money.

“Another big priority is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), a competitive grants program. It was also established in the 2008 farm bill.

“The 2008 farm bill had a lot of really good provisions, especially related to research and help for beginning farmers. This legislation doesn’t propose a lot of new programs but is trying to preserve the gains made in the 2008 farm bill.

“The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is one of those gains. It’s been highly successful and is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a USDA agency. It provides competitive grants to community-based organizations that establish beginning farmer training programs. It provides programs that assist with farm transitions, connects farmers to land that becomes available, provides financial management for farmers. To date, I believe it has funded 105 projects in 48 states and territories.”

On military veterans as beginning farmers…

“Most of the proposals in the bill are modifying existing programs – making small changes so they work better for beginning farmers.

“One of those to create a new grant priority for military veterans. That’s a potential new demographic that want to enter farming. One provision in the bill would create a priority within the beginning farm program to specifically establish training programs and agriculture rehabilitation programs for returning military veterans.

“There is also a provision that would establish a liaison position to work with veterans and connect them with USDA programs. Groups in California and Michigan are already involved in beginning farmer/veteran issues.”

Any other legislation you’re working on?

“We’ve been working on legislation that specifically addresses local and regional food systems. The aim is to increase opportunities for local and regional food – to address the middle piece between producers and consumers. It would support infrastructure, distribution, aggregation, marketing, and increasing access to healthy food.

For more, see Local and regional food legislation prepped new farm bill.

“We’ve been working with Maine Rep. Chellie Pingreeand Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and expect that bill to be introduced this week or next.

“The idea, again, is to provide a ‘marker’ bill with a lot of provisions. It cuts across, I think, nine titles of the farm bill.”