Guest Opinion: Programs could help veterans become next generation of producers

Published 11:32 am Sunday, November 10, 2019

By Teresa Hoffman

With the average age of a U.S. farmer at nearly 60 years, and millions of acres expected to change hands over the next few years, military veterans have a key role to play as the nation looks for the next generation of producers.

To do so, veterans will need assistance overcoming barriers, such as accessing land and the lack of assets or cash flow to purchase land, equipment and farm inputs.

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Access to credit is an important component of most farming operations, especially for new and beginning producers.

Farm Service Agency (FSA), a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), offers a variety of loan programs, including providing access to much-needed credit. FSA offers both direct and guaranteed loans.

In 2018, FSA loan programs had a monumental year, as obligations to all farmers reached a record  $1.1 billion. Of those, veteran farmers received $82.1 million from FSA and $76 million from third-party providers.

There are also conservation loan programs available through the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, with preference given to veteran farmers who support conservation on their farming operations.

Additionally, changes in the 2018 farm bill seek to improve outreach to veteran farmers and expand eligibility for various programs.

To ensure the U.S. is able to maintain a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry and support rural communities, our policies must create opportunity for the next generation of those who intend to produce our food and fiber.

Teresa Hoffman is policy communications associate for the Center for Rural Affairs.