Group lobbies for more federal aid for beginning farmers
Nolan Lenzen says he wouldn't have a farm today without the help of federal funding for beginning farmers. "There's just no way I could have purchased this farm" without help, says Lenzen, a 27-year-old dairy farmer near Eagle Bend, Minn. So Lenz...
Nolan Lenzen says he wouldn't have a farm today without the help of federal funding for beginning farmers.
"There's just no way I could have purchased this farm" without help, says Lenzen, a 27-year-old dairy farmer near Eagle Bend, Minn.
So Lenzen, having seen firsthand the importance of such funding, was part of a 12-person delegation of young farmers who traveled recently to Washington to lobby for increased beginning-farmer funding in the 2012 farm bill.
The delegation met with a number of legislators, legislative staffers and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials.
The officials in Washington, though generally guarded in their comments about the next farm bill, clearly recognized the struggles of beginning farmers, Lenzen says.
The delegation's trip was sponsored by the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project and other members of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
Federal legislation intended to help beginning farmers and ranchers is expected to be introduced in the next few weeks, according to information from the Land Stewardship Project.
"The 2008 farm bill took a big step toward improving opportunities for beginning farmers. What we're working for is to strengthen the current farm bill," Lenzen says.
New start in farming
Federal funding for beginning farmers "helped me personally," says Lenzen, a fourth-generation farmer.
He had been farming with his father near Watertown, Minn., which is near Minneapolis-St. Paul, and wanted a farm of his own. But urban growth in the Watertown area ruled that out.
So in 2007, Lenzen bought a 140-dairy farm near Eagle Bend, in central Minnesota, with the help of a low-interest loan from the Farm Service Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
He also installed fences and implemented rotational grazing with financial help from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which is offered by USDA's National Resources Conservation Services.
It's important that funding from such programs is available to beginning farmers as well as established ones, he says.
Today, Lenzen operates a 40-cow dairy herd that has just been certified organic.
Beginning farmers can be involved in a wide range of opportunities outside the major crops and cattle -- Lenzen mentions flowers, sheep and goats, as well as raising food and selling it directly to local consumers -- and federal ag programs need to recognize that, he says.
Beginning farmer programs also need take into account that what's useful in one part of the country might not useful in another, he says.
The delegation to Washington consisted of beginning farmers from California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Maine, Pennsylvania, New York and Minnesota, Lenzen says.
Attracting beginning farmers is important to agriculture nationwide and to farms of all sizes, he says.
"This isn't a big guy vs. little guy issue," he says.