The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, commonly called the Farm Bill, makes landmark strides in creating economic opportunities for veterans in agriculture.
Veterans are given new opportunities in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and other programs, and the bill also creates a Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison at the Department of Agriculture to reach out to veterans interested in farming. These new initiatives set aside funds for veterans in conservation programs and dedicate funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist veterans who want to own and operate farms or work in agriculture.
Veteran Farmer or Rancher Definition
“Veteran Farmers” are now recognized as a distinct class of farmer. The Veteran Farmer definition is essentially the same as that for beginning farmers and ranchers with the added requirement of service in the Armed Forces.
Veteran Farmer Defined
The term “veteran farmer or rancher” means a farmer or rancher who has served in the Armed Forces and who –
This important classification allows veterans to receive additional assistance for agricultural programs as described below.
CRP Transition Incentive Programhttp://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=copr&topic=tipr
Land sales and leases to veteran farmers are now specifically eligible for the Transition Incentive Program (TIP). Under the Conservation Reserve Program retiring farmers with land in CRP can receive additional payments for leasing or selling the land to a beginning farmer or rancher, a socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher, and, now, a veteran farmer or rancher.
The purpose of the program is to make land available to new farmers while ensuring that land coming out of CRP is farmed or grazed in a sustainable manner.
Benefits of TIP:
- Two years of additional CRP payments to the landowner,
- Allows the veteran farmer that will be leasing or purchasing the land to commence conservation and land improvements, including preparation for planting, a year prior to CRP contract expiration,
- Allows the veteran farmer to begin the organic certification process a year prior to the CRP expiration, and
- Provides the opportunity for the farmer veteran to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) or the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and to reenroll parts of the property in CRP under the Continuous CRP signup.
Requirements for TIP:
- The owner of the CRP land must be retired or retiring,
- The owner must agree to sell or enter a long-term lease (5 years) or lease with an option to purchase with the veteran farmer, and
- The veteran farmer must develop and follow a conservation plan for sustainable grazing or crop production.
Conservation Programming Preference for Veteran Farmershttp://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/financial/eqip/
The USDA is required to set aside a portion of funding for EQIP and a portion of the acres available for CSP for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The amount is 5% for beginning farmers and ranchers and 5% for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The new Farm Bill now requires that a preference be given to veteran farmers and ranchers that fall within at least one of the set-aside categories.
The USDA is also now authorized to provide additional incentives to veteran farmers for participation in conservation programs that provide new farming and ranching opportunities and enhance long-term environmental goals.
Micro-Loan Assistance for Veteran Farmershttp://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/newsReleases?area=newsroom&subject=landing&topic=pfs&newstype=prfactsheet&type=detail&item=pf_20130820_farln_en_microln.html
The 2014 Farm Bill specifically excludes Micro-loans that are used by veterans from the term limits applied to other USDA Direct Operating Loans.
The legislation also modifies the USDA Operating Loan program to limit the interest rate that may be charged to farmer veterans using USDA Micro-Loans. The interest rate is set by the Department of Agriculture but is limited to approximately half the rate of comparable loans. The law does, however, also set a minimum of 5%, which is greater than current rates for the program.
Microloans also have a simpler application process and less stringent requirements regarding farm management experience. These loans may be used for:
- Initial start-up expenses;
- Annual expenses such as seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents;
- Marketing and distribution expenses;
- Family living expenses;
- Purchase of livestock, equipment, and other materials essential to farm operations;
- Minor farm improvements such as wells and coolers;
- Hoop houses to extend the growing season;
- Essential tools;
- Delivery vehicles.
Priority for Value-Added Marketing Development Grantshttp://www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_VAPG.html
This program is one of the few instances in which private farmers may directly receive grants for their business. The purpose is to assist farm businesses and producer groups in developing business plans and strategies to market value-added products.
In awarding grants to producers under this program, the USDA must now give a priority to veteran farmers and ranchers, along with small and medium-sized family farms, beginning farmers, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The Farm Bill also increases the mandatory budget for this program from $15 million to $63 million.
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Programhttp://www.csrees.usda.gov/fo/beginningfarmerandrancher.cfm
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) administers grants to organizations providing training, education, outreach, and technical assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers. This has been one of the most critical and successful programs to help new and aspiring farmers. Under the 2014 Farm Bill assistance for veteran farmers is made a priority under the BFRDP.
First, “agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training for veterans” is specifically listed as a service that is eligible for BFRDP funding.
Second, the legislation sets aside 5% of the funding for the BFRDP exclusively for use in programs and services that address the needs of veteran farmers and ranchers. This set-aside is separate and distinct from the 5% that remains set aside for limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Third, recipients of BFRDP grants serving veteran farmers and ranchers are encouraged to coordinate efforts with recipients of grants through the Assistive Technology Program for farmers and ranchers with disabilities. This allows BFRDP to develop additional partnerships and leverage funding to provide a greater impact with their BFRDP project.
Outreach and Assistance for Veteran Farmers and Ranchershttp://www.outreach.usda.gov/sdfr/index.htm
The Outreach and Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers has been expanded to include veterans. This allows the USDA to provide additional technical assistance to veterans focused on enabling farm ownership and operation as well as outreach to encourage participation in USDA programs.
Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison
The Farm Bill legislation also increases advocacy and coordination for veteran farmers and ranchers by creating the position of Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison. This position will help connect returning veterans with agricultural programs as well as assist in the use of veteran’s education benefits for a farm or ranching career. The Liaison will also advocate on behalf of veterans in interactions with USDA employees. This position appears to essentially facilitate critical two-way communication, providing information to veterans on fully utilizing government programs and ensuring USDA personnel understand unique veteran characteristics and implementation of new veteran farmer programs.
The Veterans Liaison will also be able to enter agreements with a variety of service providers to promote research, development of educational materials, workshops and vocational training, and mentorships and apprenticeships that serve veteran farmers.
(1) provide information to returning veterans about, and connect returning veterans with, beginning farmer training and agricultural vocational and rehabilitation programs appropriate to the needs and interests of returning veterans, including assisting veterans in using Federal veterans educational benefits for purposes relating to beginning a farming or ranching career;
(2) provide information to veterans concerning the availability of and eligibility requirements for participation in agricultural programs, with particular emphasis on beginning farmer and rancher programs;
(3) serving as a resource for assisting veteran farmers and ranchers, and potential farmers and ranchers, in applying for participation in agricultural programs; and
(4) advocating on behalf of veterans in interactions with employees of the Department.
Contracts and Cooperative Agreements- For purposes of carrying out these duties the Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison may enter into contracts or cooperative agreements with the research centers of the Agricultural Research Service, institutions of higher education, or nonprofit organizations for–
- the conduct of regional research on the profitability of small farms;
- the development of educational materials;
- the conduct of workshops, courses, and certified vocational training;
- the conduct of mentoring activities; or
- the provision of internship opportunities.