By Anna Cioffi, LSP Policy Organizer
As you read this, central Minnesota farmer and LSP member Nolan Lenzen is in Washington, D.C., carrying a simple, but critical, message: agriculture is a growing and vibrant sector of our nation’s economy, and it provides many opportunities for young producers such as himself. Yet farming is also one of the most difficult occupations to enter. Limited access to markets, hyper land price inflation, high input costs, and a lack of sufficient support networks are just a few barriers new agricultural entrepreneurs face. It doesn’t need to be this way.
Lenzen, a graduate of LSP’s Farm Beginnings program, is joining beginning farmers from across the country this week in a fly-in to meet with agricultural policymakers in Congress and to discuss ways to expand and improve a comprehensive beginning farmer and rancher initiative that breaks down barriers to entry and gives real support to small and mid-scale producers across the country.
As was recently described in a Land Stewardship Letter profile and podcast featuring Lenzen, he started out as a conventional dairy farmer, but soon found himself on a speeding treadmill of mounting debt, an unsustainable workload and dwindling market opportunities. A few years ago, Lenzen transitioned into a grass-based organic system, finding it better for his bottom line, his cows, his family and the environment. Alternative systems like grass-based organic dairying have been a good fit for many young dairy farmers like Lenzen, but these innovative producers continue to face barriers in accessing federal programs designed to assist them with getting started.
If we want to encourage a new generation to pursue a career in agriculture, and to thus create vibrant rural communities, we must design public policy that responds to the unique needs of beginning farmers and ranchers.
Now is the time to begin discussing how good public policy can support the next generation of farmers. Policy makers are already beginning to debate the 2012 Farm Bill, making this a prime opportunity to get the message across to Congress that it has an opportunity to expand and improve comprehensive beginning farmer and rancher initiatives.
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, a precedent-setting national initiative, is a big step in the right direction. Congress needs to continue to support and even expand BFRDP and programs like it in the next Farm Bill (click here for a fact sheet on BFRDP and here for a podcast describing the initiative). For more information on other policy initiatives that can help the next generation of farmers, contact LSP’s Policy Program at 612-722-6377.