(Washington, D.C.) Today, Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act, a bill to remove barriers faced by young, beginning, and historically marginalized farmers and ranchers. The legislation mirrors a bipartisan bill introduced last month by Representatives Nikki Budzinski (D-IL), Zach Nunn (R-IA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), and Abigail Spanberger (D-VA). If enacted, the legislation would expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access Program and represent an historic step toward addressing the interrelated challenges that these farmers face.
In addition to the Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act, Senator Smith also introduced legislation to reauthorize the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program, which provides grants to community-based organizations and service providers that provide education, training, and technical assistance to beginning and BIPOC producers.
“Farming is complex, but one thing is very straight forward: Farmers need land. Yet, access to land is the number one challenge facing beginning and historically marginalized farmers, followed closely by access to the other resources they need to start and grow viable farm businesses. As the average age of farmers approaches 60 and our nation faces an unprecedented generational transfer of farmland, solving these challenges is even more urgent.,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for American Farmland Trust. “By introducing these two bills—the Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act and the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Grant Program Reauthorization Act—Senator Smith sends a clear message that these challenges are interrelated, and that addressing them requires urgent investment and creative, community-led solutions. We applaud her leadership and will work hard to see these changes included in the next Farm Bill.”
With agricultural land at record prices—fueled in part from steep competition from developers, investors, and established farmers—the challenges that many young and Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) farmers and ranchers become even more acute. At the same time, our nation’s agricultural landowners are aging—for every farmer and rancher under age 35, there are four who are 65 years or older. This impending generational transfer represents both an opportunity and a challenge, since without strong policies in place this land may be out of reach for most new, beginning, and underserved producers. Compounding these land access challenges, many farmers and ranchers, especially those with small and mid-sized operations, struggle with farm viability. Farmers must continually fine-tune their business models to develop resilient operations that are viable in the long-run and can withstand the cyclical ups and downs inherent to farming.
In 2022, USDA’s Farm Service Agency launched the Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access (LCM) Program to provide flexible support for a wide range of eligible activities through community-based service providers. The program is the first of its kind to directly address land access and related challenges facing young, beginning, and BIPOC producers, with services including succession planning, support for down payments, business and financial planning, and heirs’ property title resolution.
The Increasing Land Access, Security and Opportunities Act expands on this program, making it permanent and authorizing funding at $100 million per year for the next five years.
“We applaud Senator Smith for introducing these bills,” Fink said, “and for working to ensure that the next Farm Bill supports equitable opportunities for historically marginalized producers to not just farm, but to thrive. By helping farmers get on the land, stay on the land, and build strong, viable businesses, these bills would set the next generation up for success.”
The Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act would permanently authorize the LCM Program and broaden its authorities, including:
- Making funding available to entities that focus on strengthening land, capital, and market access for historically underserved farmers.
- Providing funds for services that help farmers and ranchers acquire land, cover closing costs and down payments, secure clear titles, make site improvements, and access training and business technical assistance.
- Prioritizing projects that give direct financial assistance to farmers, involve collaborative partnerships, and transition farmland from existing producers to the next generation.
- Establishing a committee of stakeholders to develop a process for evaluating applications and distributing funds effectively.
A summary of the Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities Act can be found here.