HILLSDALE–Congressman Chris Gibson (R-19th), flanked by young farmers from around the region, chose a barnyard at Hawthorne Valley Farm Monday, April 22 to outline efforts in the House of Representatives to revive funding for the multimillion dollar program called the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act.
Mr. Gibson said the bill, which he hopes will be part of the larger, five-year farm bill, would become law by the fall. The bill would continue programs that help train young farmers and would authorize micro-loans of up to $35,000 to beginner farmers.
Who’s a beginner? Representative Gibson said it’s a farmer who has had a farm in production for fewer than 10 consecutive years. He said the definition of a beginner farmer is “intentionally broad” because the need for younger farmers is great.
The congressman, a Kinderhook resident whose district includes all of Columbia County, also offered some insight into the politics of agriculture. Now in his second term, Mr. Gibson is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, and he said that within the committee there is strong bipartisan support for the Beginner Farmer bill. Where differences divide the committee, he said, is often along regional lines, not ideology, with members from states in the Northeast finding common ground especially around what are considered specialty crops.
The bill would make $55 million a year available for the program nationwide over the five year proposed life of the new farm bill, a drop in the bucket compared to the billions called for in the overall farm legislation. But the beginner farmer program was “zeroed out” as talks began at the beginning of the year, and Mr. Gibson and other sponsors of the program have fought to get funding restored.
Last year it looked as if Congress would approve a multi-year farm bill, but in the end the deal fell apart and the old law was extended. Rep. Gibson said Monday that “tolerance for an extension” again this year seems to be ebbing among members of the House.
The congressman described farming as “a calling” and said he sees this bill and government support for agriculture in general as matters of national security. He does not want to see the U.S. having to send troops overseas to protect our food supplies in the way the nation now does to protect energy sources.
He and others said the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act will help the nation replenish its farmers as older farmers age and leave the land.
Martin Ping, executive Director of Hawthorne Valley Farm Association said that the biodynamic farm here has been training new farmers for four decades and that the organization has been working with the beginner farmers program to share best practices, foster collaborations and measure outcomes.
Will Yandik of Green Acres Farm in Livingston, representing the Farm Bureau, said that access to land was a problem for young farmers so close to major metropolitan areas. But he said that the beginner farmer program, with its low interest loans and other assistance, offered hope and encouragement. “Hundreds if not thousands of young farmers are waiting to farm if only they can get the help they need,” he said.
Even if the bill does make it out of committee and wins approval in the full House with the beginner farmer program still intact, it also has to get the support of the Senate. New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D), sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee. A spokesman for her Washington office said by email this week that The Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (S.10), the Senate Farm Bill, “includes a beginning farmer and rancher development provision, similar to the House bill.”
The Senate Agriculture Committee is expected to take up the legislation in early to mid-May.
Senator Gillibrand has also recently announced a set of priorities specifically for dairy farmers that she will push for as the Senate begins to debate the bill. More about that bill is at her Senate website, www.gillibrand.senate.gov by clicking on the newsroom tab.