Senator Heidi Heitkamp United States Senator for North Dakota

Press Releases

Apr 26 2018

Heitkamp, Collins Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Young & Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

Average Age of ND Farmer is Nearly 60 Years Old, Reinforcing Need to Support and Boost Young & Beginning Farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp and Susan Collins (R-ME) today introduced a bipartisan bill to support programs that help new and beginning farmers and ranchers enter and remain in the industry, build the next generation of farmers, and feed the country and the world.

The Next Generation in Agriculture Act aims to ensure a younger generation of agriculture workers have the education and support they need to begin a career in farming and ranching. Heitkamp, a member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, is pushing to incorporate the legislation into the next Farm Bill.

The average age of a farmer is 57 years old in both North Dakota and Maine, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Across the country, the share of farmers age 65 and older has increased from 14 percent in 1945, to more than 31 percent in 2012. The percentage of new farmers has declined since 1982, and without efforts to cultivate the next generation of farmers, rural economies could suffer.

“Farming and ranching is a way of life in North Dakota – but to ensure it stays that way, we have to support young and beginning farmers and ranchers,” Heitkamp said. “We must do more to cultivate the next generation of family farmers, and that’s what this bipartisan bill is about – giving young Americans the tools they need to succeed in agriculture and keep our rural communities strong. With the number of new farmers and ranchers falling – and our current population of farmers aging – this bill would take important steps to maintain North Dakota’s strong tradition of family farming and help new farmers and ranchers launch successful careers.”  

“The future of our country’s agriculture industry, a vital component of our economy, is dependent on energizing, supporting, and educating the next generation of farmers,” said Senator Collins. “Our legislation would ensure that new farmers and ranchers have the tools and firsthand experience necessary to become established in this field by facilitating apprenticeships with older farmers, assisting with the acquisition of land from retiring farmers, and providing critical entrepreneurship and business training.  We encourage our colleagues to support this bipartisan bill to help new farmers build on our nation’s rich farming tradition.”

“Growing up on a family farm, I was fortunate that my dad and grandpa were able to pass down their knowledge and skills,” said Cameron Gulleson of Gulleson Farm and Ranch in Rutland, N.D. “As my brothers and I began taking on larger roles on the farm, we learned that the rewards in good years can be great – but the challenges in tough years are hard to prepare for. Senator Heitkamp’s bill will give important support to programs that help young and aspiring farmers get through the tough times that are sure to come. These programs are game changers for new farmers and ranchers, and I’m glad Senator Heitkamp is fighting to support them.” 

The Next Generation in Agriculture Act would give the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) more resources to help young and beginning farmers become established in the field of agriculture. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Extend the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development (BFRD) program beyond 2018, and increase the USDA’s support for the program to $30 million in fiscal years 2019-2020, $40 million for fiscal years 2021-2022, and $50 million for fiscal year 2023 and each fiscal year thereafter.
  • Emphasize areas of the BFRD program that would include farmers and ranchers who are looking to transition their farming operation to a young or beginning farmer.
  • Change the definition in the crop insurance title to define a beginning farmer and rancher as having farmed less than 10 years opposed to 5.
  • Create a permanent National Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coordinator and Agricultural Youth Coordinator at the USDA, and direct state USDA offices to designate an employee as the state beginning farmer and rancher coordinator.
  • Direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a next generation agriculture technology challenge competition to provide an incentive for the development of innovative technology that removes barriers to entry in the marketplace for beginning farmers and ranchers.

The BFRD program plays a key role in helping the next generation become established in agriculture by providing grants to organizations for education, mentoring, and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers or ranchers. Click here for more information on the program.

Click here for more information about the Next Generation in Agriculture Act

Click here for more statements of support for the bill from farmers, ranchers, and supportive groups in North Dakota and across the country.

Heitkamp helped write and negotiate the 2014 Farm Bill, and has introduced a series of bills aimed at shaping the next Farm Bill, including:

  • A bill to improve disaster assistance to livestock and honeybee producers by permanently remove the funding cap for the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program (ELAP) – a provision that was signed into law in a recent budget agreement –  and the bill would also allow the Secretary of Agriculture to temporarily raise the cost-share assistance provided by the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) from 75 percent to 90 percent in counties that receive an extreme drought designation.

Click here or see below for additional statements of support for Senator Heitkamp’s Next Generation in Agriculture Act:

“As a young person pursuing a career in agriculture, I am always looking for information and resources that benefit my career aspirations and also makes it easier for my peers to pursue these types of careers. The addition of an agricultural youth coordinator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture would further enhance USDA’s relationship with youth organizations like FFA and 4-H, and would ensure that the interests of our country’s young agricultural leaders are considered and advocated for. North Dakota FFA appreciates Senator Heitkamp’s work in supporting the next generation of agriculture.” - Cole Ketterling, State President, North Dakota FFA Association

“Programs like crop insurance are so important to beginning farmers and ranchers because they give you the cushion needed to learn the trade and survive challenges like drought and low commodity prices. Prospective farmers and ranchers need education and training to navigate their way not only around the farm, but also through the array of programs available to support them. That’s why Senator Heitkamp’s bill is so important to helping North Dakota farmers and ranchers who are just starting out, as well as the older generations who need to know that their kids and grandkids will have the support they need to make agriculture a rewarding career.” - Ben Kuhn, Kuhn Family Farm and Ranch, Dickinson, N.D.

"As a fourth generation farmer, I'm witnessing the tremendous shifts that are taking place in North Dakota with regard to transitioning farmland to the next generation of farmers. This bill is a lifeline for farmers like me that are taking the reins at a time of immense uncertainty in the farm economy. Starting a farm business right now is an extremely risky venture. Thankfully, Senator Heitkamp is reaching across the aisle to come up with common-sense solutions that will make it easier for folks like myself to get started." - Ross Lockhart, Heart and Soil Farm, Grandin, N.D.

“We need tools that guarantee food security for our nation. Senator Heitkamp’s efforts to adequately fund and expand this program is important because it gives young people the resources and tools they need to get established in farming or ranching. The ability of a nation to feed itself is a matter of national security. This program will help us maintain our highly successful system of family farm agriculture.” - Mark Watne, President, North Dakota Farmers Union

“Without new generations of farmers, there is no future for American agriculture “The Beginning Farmers and Youth Opportunities in Agriculture Act creates a bridge between our current and aspiring farmers by facilitating the transfer of skills, knowledge, and resources between generations. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applauds Senators Heitkamp and Collins for helping to secure a vibrant future for our food and farm economies and for the farmers and families that keep those industries strong.” - Juli Obudzinski, Deputy Policy Director, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

“Agriculture and agricultural education have made a profound impact on my life, and I believe the creation of an agricultural youth coordinator would help support the next generation of agriculture,” said “We know that there will be 58,000 agricultural jobs available annually in the next five years, but a shortfall of 23,000 new professionals pursuing those careers. This position will help us encourage today’s youth to pursue careers in food and agriculture.” - Piper Merritt, Central Region National Vice President, The National FFA Organization Future

"As the majority of our farmers approach retirement age, we need bold action to ensure that their legacy continues. Young people across the country are stepping up and looking to be our next generation of growers, but they need our help. We applaud Senators Heitkamp and Collins for recognizing the urgency of this moment and leading the way on behalf of young farmers. The future of farming and the success of our rural communities depend on it." - Lindsey Lusher Shute, co-founder and Executive Director, National Young Farmers Coalition




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