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Statement of Chairwoman Stabenow at Subcommittee Hearing On the Next Generation of Farmers

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, released the following statement at a hearing titled "Pathways to Farming: Helping the Next Generation of Farmers."

Stabenow’s Statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Thank you, Senators Smith and Hyde-Smith, for holding this important hearing, and thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

While the average age of American farmers has been on the rise, the number of new and beginning farmers has been increasing as well – nearly one-third of all producers are beginning farmers.  So the problem is not only attracting new farmers, it is getting them the support and removing the barriers that are keeping them from long-term success.

The future of American agriculture, and the strength of the agricultural economy, depends on the long-term success of these farmers and ranchers.

However, new and beginning farmers often face significant barriers to entering the agricultural economy and are left with less support from the farm safety net than established farmers. Almost half of beginning farmers receive the majority of their household income from off-farm employment.

For example, land with base acres in the commodity programs is more expensive to purchase and costlier to rent. 

Beginning farmers often lack the necessary capital to access this land and are forced onto land without base acres which means they don’t qualify for the current commodity payments through ARC and PLC

The House proposal to increase these programs by 70% and relax or remove payment and eligibility limits for the biggest farms will make land rents even more unaffordable for beginning farmers, making access even more challenging.

Making crop insurance, more affordable and accessible is a more effective way to help farmers – it does not depend upon base acres that were established in the 1980s and covers what the producer is actually growing.

Other barriers include challenges accessing the necessary capital and financing, technical assistance and hands-on-training, and the risk management tools they need to succeed.

For many of these farmers and ranchers, their pathway into the agricultural economy begins with small fruit, vegetable, or livestock operations.

The success of these farms often depends on consistent access to local markets that provides fresh, local produce directly to consumers, restaurants and small businesses in the community.

This is an economic model that depends on strong support for specialty crops, a focus on local and regional supply chains, technical assistance to help navigate federal programs and resources, and targeted solutions that help beginning farmers maintain their operations.

Last month, I unveiled the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act which makes significant investments in the next generation of agricultural professionals – whether they are on the farm, in the lab, or in the boardroom. The proposal incorporates more than 100 bipartisan provisions and is aimed at expanding the reach of the safety net for all producers.

It provides new opportunities for training and education, opens new pathways to getting started, and ensures that risk management tools meet the needs of new and beginning farmers.

It makes several improvements to lower barriers to credit. It provides the first expansion of ARC and PLC access in more than 20 years by providing an opportunity for beginning farmers to use these programs through a targeted base acre establishment.

It makes crop insurance more affordable. And it supports education and training for the next generation to feed, fuel, and clothe the world.

This is a strong bill for new and beginning farmers and ranchers, and I ask unanimous consent that this document highlighting how the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act will support the next generation be entered into the record.

I want to again thank Senators Smith and Hyde-Smith for holding this important hearing.

I know we can continue to build on this bipartisan cooperation to finish our work on the 2024 Farm Bill.

I have always believed there is a bipartisan path forward if we maintain the long tradition of respecting the needs and interests of the broad farm and food coalition. This has always been the foundation of a successful Farm Bill.

Working together, I know we can pass a strong, bipartisan bill that keeps farmers farming, families fed, and rural communities strong.

Thank you.