Farm Bill needs to make land accessible for young, less affluent and BIPOC farmers
More than 40% of U.S. farmland is expected to change ownership over the next two decades, and purchasing affordable land is a challenge for most farmers in our region, according to a survey of farmers in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota conducted by the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Land Stewardship Project, and Midwest Farmers of Color Collective.
This challenge has a ripple effect across our communities — from accelerating corporate consolidation, to the decrease in the use of soil-health and conservation practices, and, ultimately, to the decline of once vibrant rural communities.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith introduced the Increasing Land Access, Security, and Opportunities (LASO) Act to help address this major challenge. If enacted in the 2023 Farm Bill, this innovative legislation would provide $100 million per year over five years to support solutions to the land access crisis facing the new generation of young and BIPOC farmers. This bill is a significant step for young farmers, ranchers and everyone who has been fighting to win federal funding to address issues of equitable land access, retention and transition.
The 2023 Farm Bill will dictate U.S. land policy significantly. Land is deeply intertwined with all aspects of farmers’ success, and it does not just impact farmers — land access is critical to the health and wellbeing of our environment, economy and local communities.
As organizations working across Minnesota agricultural communities with a focus on Latino, younger, BIPOC and beginning and transitioning farmers, we believe the next Farm Bill must make a historic investment in equitable land access, retention, and transition. The LASO Act authorizes a program that would make funding available to a wide variety of eligible entities and result in critical resources to support farmland access, retention and transition, as well as access to credit and markets. Funded projects will serve the needs of farmers and ranchers who have been historically underserved by federal resources and should result in secure, affordable and equitable access to farmland.
The LASO Act expands upon the innovative Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access Program, or LCM, which the USDA introduced in August 2022 as a one-time funding opportunity. LCM offered $300 million in funding for projects to increase land access for underserved farmers, including funding for innovative ways to connect available land to underserved producers who have challenges in accessing land, or to restore lands into the hands of those who have been underserved. The LASO Act will ensure that the 2023 Farm Bill prioritizes land access for future generations by securing the future of the LCM program and expanding its capabilities.
The LASO Act, if included in the 2023 Farm Bill, could be a catalytic opportunity to support young and BIPOC farmers across the country with real dollars for land access, retention and transition into the future. We have seen the transformational potential of this program as the Latino Economic Development Center begins to launch their recently funded LCM grant project.
Specifically, LEDC’s project will work to systematically address the needs of underserved farmers by providing access to capital to underserved producers while connecting those producers to crucial market contracts; building a system for identifying and working with landowners who are looking to transfer their land; and creating a conservation fund that can purchase and hold land for underserved farmers until other financing is secured. For example, this project would allow LEDC to connect with an emerging farmer and get that farmer a secure market contract with The Good Acre. The contract will in turn help LEDC give the farmer a start-up loan for their operation, and finally, as the farm grows over its first three years, LEDC will connect with LSP’s farmland owners to help navigate the purchase of farmland.
The LASO Act has the backing of organizations working across Minnesota agricultural communities, and we look forward to working together with our U.S. senators, the USDA, farmers and other partners to ensure that investment in secure and equitable land tenure for the next generation is funded through the 2023 Farm Bill.