The U.S. Senate has begun debating the farm bill, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has a leading role as ranking Republican member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Unfortunately, programs that invest in the next generation of family farmers and ranchers and boost jobs through rural entrepreneurship will receive little-to-no funding in the bill as it stands.
There are significant barriers to young people who wish to become farmers: skyrocketing prices for land, expensive infrastructure and lots of overhead.
Yet funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and for a program that provides training to minority farmers is significantly reduced in the bill being considered by the Senate.
These are difficult fiscal times for our nation, but the farm bill comes but once every five years, and this is a time for foresight and leadership.
It isn’t enough to invest in the future of Kansas agriculture; we must invest in the future of rural Kansas broadly.
Among the proven job-creating titles of the farm bill are the rural development programs, which authorize essential grants and loans targeted at leveraging local initiatives to spur growth and opportunity in rural areas. Since 1996 Congress has provided an average of $413 million per farm bill for these programs, while the new bill as reported by the committee includes no funding at all.
Small-scale entrepreneurship is the one economic development strategy that consistently works in rural communities. More than half of all new jobs created in the most rural areas come from small, nonfarm business ventures. Rural development programs targeted at small-business development contribute to job creation in rural areas.
Fortunately, there is still a chance to ensure that these programs are not forgotten in this year’s farm bill. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, along with other interested senators, is considering offering an amendment that restores funding to these crucial rural development programs and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs.
By investing in rural economic development and in the next generation of farmers and ranchers, we can ensure that the farm bill is a jobs bill that underpins and enables economic growth in rural communities throughout America.