Federal programs that help rural Wisconsin are taking a financial hit in the Farm Bill currently being debated in the U.S. Senate, but there is an effort underway to restore funding.
The Farm Bill is big and expensive, and therefore a tempting target for budget cutters in Washington. The bill’s sponsors have pledged to cut $23 billion over the next 10 years. At first, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program wasn’t funded. It’s an initiative that, as the name suggests, provides education and training for new farmers. Some money has since been restored. But ag experts say it’s not enough. Margaret Krome is the Policy Program Director at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute which promotes socially responsible farming: “You want farmers who know how to farm and stay in business. You need the training. You need the help. You need to be able to make your way through the red tape of getting loans. You need access to land. So you need to help people get started so we have yet another generation.“
Krome notes that the average age of a Wisconsin farmer is 57. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is sponsoring an amendment that would increase funding for the Beginning Farmer Program. The same amendment also restores funding for rural development initiatives which were cut completely, like the Value Added Producer Grant program. Krome says those grants have benefited Wisconsin more than any other state: “Value added means taking milk, making cheese. Taking berries, making jam. It’s the way farmers can add value to what they grow and sell so that they retain more of the profit and the rural communities benefit.”
It’s unclear when Brown’s amendment will be considered. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) are still deciding how to best tackle the 200-plus amendments that have been proposed to the next Farm Bill.