Young farmers may get huge boost from Costello bill
West Chester >> Being a farmer is hard enough. Long days, fear of the weather, and spiraling costs make it among the nation’s most demanding professions.
Being a young farmer with no track record and little starting capital may be even harder.
That is why legislation that will help those getting a foothold in agriculture is being viewed by many as an encouraging move to bolster local farmers.
The Young and Beginning Farmers Act would help farmers who are just starting out with access to land and grants, as well as help with local food systems. The legislation, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6th, of West Goshen, would expedite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s loan application process for young farmers who are in the process of securing farmland; provide funding for the farmers’ market promotion and local food promotion program; and extend the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which awards grants to organizations for education and mentoring purposes through a competitive grant process, according to a press release.
Last week, a group of those farmers sent Costello a letter thanking him for his support.
“This legislation is vital to the success of young farmers and ranchers in our region and around the country as it addresses three critical barriers facing the next generation of producers: lack of access to affordable farmland, difficulty reaching federal farm bill programs, and finding opportunities for training, mentorship, and business development,” the letter from the Young Farmers Coalition of Southeastern Pennsylvania read, in part.
The bi-partisan legislation, introduced with U.S. Rep. Sean Maloney, Democrat of New York, was referred to the House Committee on Agriculture in November.
“As Congress continues its work on the next farm bill, we look forward to working with you to ensure that the priorities outlined in H.R. 4201 are included in the final legislation,” it continued. “We urge you to work with your colleagues to add co-sponsors to your bill and build support for young farmers across all titles of the farm bill.”
In the press release, Costello explained the reasoning behind the legislation.
“I care a great deal about supporting the next generation of farmers, and this legislation is a smart investment in Pennsylvania’s young farmers and our local economy,” he said. “The success and future of our farm communities depends on these farmers having the necessary resources, and opportunity to thrive and succeed. In Pennsylvania, farming is an important part of our economy and heritage, and I’m proud to support the over 1,800 farms in my district.”
The current 6th Congressional District includes portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties.
The letter thanking Costello noted that in April, 2016, he met with two of the organization’s chapter members, Frank Kurylo and Kim Cook, at Two Gander Farm in East Brandywine. They were able to discuss the importance of local sustainable food systems in the community and the need for young people to pursue a career in agriculture.
“Without support and legislation like this, we risk losing our nation’s future farms and farmers,” said Kurylo, who is the chapter organizer for the young farmers group. “100 million acres of U.S. farmland is expected to change ownership in the next five years. We need to be able to connect young farmers to the land and provide the resources to help make farming a viable option for the next generation. The Young and Beginning Farmers Act is critical to reaching these goals and reconnecting people to a food system built around the sustainable principles that drive our access to healthy food.”
Farming is an increasingly aging profession, making Costello’s legislation particularly timely. In 2012, the average age of the principal operator on a farm was 58 years old, which increased by eight years on average in the past 30 years.
Throughout his time in Congress, Costello has visited with and heard from local farmers who have utilized the Farm Credit System, which was established in 1916 by Congress under the Farm Loan Act. That credit is integral to supporting young and beginning farmers. These visits and conversations have added to his understanding of the importance of access to capital for farmers, and he believes those lending the capital should also have an appreciation for what the challenges of farming are – making the credit system critical.