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War vet advocates for young farmers

DANIEL LOOKER 05/11/2012 @ 4:25pm Business Editor

In writing the next farm bill, Congress needs to support programs for beginning farmers, too, an Iraq war veteran and young farmer from Plainview, Nebraska, told a House Agriculture Committee panel on Thursday of this week.

Justin Doerr grew up on a crop and livestock farm near Plainview, but his parents had sold their livestock and were renting out their land when he returned from military service. 

“When I got back from the service I wanted to move home and farm. What I found later was I had the desire to farm but did not have the means, as I lacked the capital and resources to begin farming after the folks sold their operation,” he told the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, and Credit. 

Doerr went to college instead and he eventually was able to rent 40 acres from a neighbor. He is now renting more land and, thanks to holding down three jobs, is building equity. 

The last, 2008 Farm Bill, does have programs to help start-up farms and ranches, but compared to commodity programs such as the $5 billion spent annually on direct payments, for example, they’re modest.

One, the Conservation Reserve Program – Transition Incentive Program (CRP-TIP), offers landowners two additional years of rental payments if they rent or sell to beginning or disadvantaged farmers when their land comes out of the program. However, Congress approved only $25 million in mandatory spending for that program and, as Doerr explained to the committee, all of the money had run out by the spring of this year. So he wasn’t able to use it.

It’s just one of several programs Doerr said he’d like to see continued or expanded in the next farm bill along with some new ideas, including a USDA program to educate returning veterans about new farmer programs. That boost for veterans was included in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s version of a farm bill that’s expected to come up for a vote sometime this month or next by Washington lobbyists. 

Other ideas he supports:

--Continuation of the Down Payment Loan Program, which helps finance a down payment so that young farmers need to come up with only 5% instead of the typical 30% required to buy land. 

--Whole Farm Crop Insurance, which covers noncommodity crops like alfalfa hay, for example. Many beginning farmers have diversified livestock and crop operations with fewer acres of insurable commodity crops. That, too, is in the Senate ag committee farm bill.

Prospects for some of these ideas look good, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which, along with the Center for Rural Affairs, helped pay for Doerr’s trip to the nation’s capital this week.

According to Ferd Hoefner of the coalition, Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE), the former Ag Secretary on the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced an amendment to the committee’s farm bill that doubles spending for CRP-TIP to $50 million for the next five years.

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