The 2018 Farm Bill, which is one month overdue but still being actively debated by the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Committee, can help veterans make the transition to meaningful careers in agriculture by including a new, innovative program: Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach.
“FOTO combines two programs with excellent records of success, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers Program (Section 2501) in order to create a singular, stronger program,” said Juli Obudzinski, Interim Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
BFRDP is the only federal program specifically dedicated to training the next generation of producers, while Section 2501 has been USDA’s primary tool for increasing access to federal services for historically underserved producers. In the 2014 Farm Bill, Congress expanded Section 2501’s mission to serve farmers of color to also include providing support and outreach to military veterans.
According to S.A.V.E., or Service member Agricultural Vocation Education Farm, a Kansas-based non-profit organization that assists service members and veterans in transitioning to careers in agriculture, roughly 40% of the 2.3 million of American veterans transitioning to civilian life are interested in becoming America’s next generation of farmers or ranchers.
“Support for military veterans transitioning into agriculture exploded after the 2014 Farm Bill thanks to the programs and projects that were funded through Section 2501, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and the Office for Advocacy and Outreach for Veteran and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers,” said Michael O’Gorman, Executive Director of the Farmer Veteran Coalition. “Bringing these programs together under one roof, with sustained funding, is the sort of commitment our veterans deserve as they continue serving our country through agriculture.”
While the 2014 Farm Bill may have expanded the Section 2501 program’s eligibility base, it also severely weakened the program by cutting funding in half. By combining Section 2501 and BFRDP into the FOTO program in the next farm bill, Congress has an opportunity to not just restore, but to scale up and permanently protect investments in the future of American agriculture.
“BFRDP and USDA’s new Ag Vets program have been central to the work we do here,” said retired Army Colonel and President of S.A.V.E. Gary LaGrange in an interview with NSAC.. “Though we have some donated funds, the grants from these programs have been key to helping us develop the programs that we have and that we will have in the future. That support is central to us and to our work, and most importantly it’s central to the lives of the young men and women that we serve.
“We need Congress to include FOTO in the next farm bill because bringing up the next generation of producers is critical to saving our farms and farm families,” said LaGrange. “It just makes sense to do so. It’s the right thing to do.”
Source: National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition