Baldwin, Braun Lead Bipartisan Bill to Ease Barriers to Farmland Ownership for Next Generation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Mike Braun (R-IN) introduced new legislation to break down barriers to farming and agricultural land ownership and help more Americans pursue careers in farming. The bipartisan Farm Transition Act of 2024 would for the first time stand up the Commission on Farm Transitions to study the issues impacting the transition of agricultural operations to the next generation of farmers and ranchers and make recommendations to address those barriers.

“Wisconsin’s farmland is not only critical to our state’s identity, it’s also one of Wisconsin’s most valuable assets, contributing to our local economies, safeguarding our national food security, and putting our state on the map with world-class products. As we reach a pivot point between generations of farmers, many Wisconsinites interested in a career in agriculture are being locked out because of the cost and having to compete with Wall Street investment firms buying up farmland,” said Senator Baldwin. “We need to do more to protect our agricultural land and give more hard-working Wisconsin farmers the opportunity to take over the family farm or start their own. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort that will help usher in the next generation of Wisconsin farmers, ranchers, and growers.”

“America’s food security is national security. With one in three farmers preparing to retire in the next decade, we cannot afford to stand back and watch as the nation’s agricultural industry reaches a tipping point without a plan to feed the future. This is a big priority for Hoosier farmers and families, which is why I released our Aging Farmers report in October. A lot of farms are going to go up for sale and we need to make sure that America isn’t bought up acre by acre by foreign competitors,” said Senator Braun. “To ensure America’s future in agriculture we must proactively attract and retain farmers, increase agriculture innovation, and streamline regulations and protect domestic agriculture. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan bill with Sen. Baldwin because we need to make it easier for folks to get into farming and encourage family farms to go from generation to generation.”

As of 2021, seniors aged 65 and older owned more than 40 percent of the agricultural land in the United States, according to the American Farmland Trust. This suggests an impending transfer of more than 370 million acres of farmland in the next two decades. Despite the current and projected increase in transfers of agricultural land ownership, young and beginning farmers and ranchers struggle to afford purchasing farms.

One factor is the amount of farmland bought by investment firms, which has steeply risen more than 230% from 2008 to 2023. Additionally, the number of acres owned by foreign entities increased by nearly 65 percent between 2010 and 2021 to 40 million acres.

Agricultural land loss and access to capital contributes to this challenge. Between 2001 and 2016, 11 million acres of land were paved over or converted to uses that threaten the future of agriculture – a rate of 2,000 acres of productive agricultural land a day. Wisconsin lost 10 percent of its farms and 30 percent of its dairy farms in a five-year period, according to 2022 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Additionally, most farmland is not sold on the open market, and is often sold only to well-capitalized, well-established buyers.

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the Commission on Farm Transitions to investigate barriers to farm and agricultural land ownership, but the USDA never stood up the Commission. The Farm Transition Act of 2024 would reauthorize the Commission on Farm Transitions and require the USDA to actually set up the Commission within 60 days of enactment and address these barriers to farming and agricultural land ownership.

The 10-member Commission is tasked with studying issues impacting the transition of agricultural operations to the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and making subsequent recommendations to address them, including:

  • The availability of quality land, necessary infrastructure, affordable credit, adequate risk management tools, and apprenticeship and mentorship programs;
  • The state of current agricultural asset transfer strategies and potential improvements;
  • Incentives to facilitate agricultural asset transfers to the next generation of farmers and ranchers, including an assessment of how current federal tax policy impacts lifetime and estate asset transfers, and impacts individuals seeking to farm who do not have a farm family lineage, as well as recommendations for new or modified incentives;
  • The effectiveness, and potential improvements, of transition assistance programs and incentives;
  • Barriers faced by farmers and ranchers in the ability to transfer, inherit, or purchase agricultural assets, including land; and
  • The impact of leasing and ownership trends by foreign persons or entities.

The Farmland Transitions Act of 2024 was also introduced in the House today by Representatives Yadira Caraveo (D-CO-8), Trent Kelly (R-MS-01), Don Davis (D-NC-01), and Zach Nunn (R-IA-03). This legislation is supported by the American Farmland Trust, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, and Wisconsin Farmers Union.

“This Commission would add to oversight and further the understanding of barriers in farm transition for the next generation, and also touches on giving more understanding of the impacts of foreign ownership of US agricultural land,” said Michelle Ramirez-White, Government Relations Policy Coordinator at the Wisconsin Farmers Union.

“Nearly a third of the country’s total agricultural land will change hands over the next twenty years as the current generation of farmers retire,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for American Farmland Trust. “Ensuring that this land remains in agriculture and creates opportunities for new farmers will require deliberate policy. AFT applauds the introduction of the Farm Transition Act which will help identify the barriers and the solutions needed to enable these farms and ranches to transfer to the next generation of producers.”

“Farm succession and estate planning can be a difficult and stressful time for Wisconsin farmers,” said Brad Olson, President of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. “The process of succession planning has many technical components that require accountants, consultants, tax specialists and attorneys to figure out how and when the transition will happen. This can lead to some very difficult discussions and hard decisions. Wisconsin Farm Bureau supports The Farm Transition Act of 2024 to identify those barriers to entry for the next generation. With the average age of a farmer being 56 years old we need to be having the conversation now about how more new or beginning farmers can get involved and begin that transition to the next generation.”

A one-pager on this legislation is available here. Full text of this legislation is available here.

An online version of this release is available here.