Investing in Rural Kansas' Future

The U.S. Senate began debating the Farm Bill in earnest this week on the farm bill last week. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) has a leading role as Ranking Member of the Senate’s agriculture committee.
     Unfortunately, programs that invest in the next generation of family farmers and ranchers and boost jobs through rural entrepreneurship will receive little-to-no funding in the bill as it currently stands.
     There are significant barriers to young people that wish to become farmers: skyrocketing prices for land, expensive infrastructure and lots of overhead. Yet, funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and for a program that provides training to minority farmers is significantly reduced in the bill currently being considered by the Senate. These are difficult fiscal times for our nation, but the farm bill comes but once every five years, and this is a time for foresight and leadership.
     It isn’t enough to invest in the future of Kansas agriculture; we must invest in the future of rural Kansas broadly.
     One of the proven job-creating titles of the farm bill is the Rural Development title, which authorizes essential grants and loan programs targeted at leveraging local initiatives to spur growth and opportunity in rural areas. Since 1996, Congress has provided an average of $413 million per farm bill for the Rural Development title, while the new bill as reported by the Committee includes no funding at all.
     Small-scale entrepreneurship is the one economic development strategy that consistently works in rural communities. Over half of all new jobs created in the most rural areas come from small, non-farm business ventures. Rural development programs targeted at small business development contribute to job creation in rural areas.
     Fortunately, there is still a chance to ensure that these programs are not forgotten in this year’s farm bill.   Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), along with other interested Senators, is considering offering an amendment that restores funding to these crucial rural development and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer programs.
     By investing in rural economic development and in the next generation of farmers and ranchers, we can ensure that the farm bill is a jobs bill that underpins and enables economic growth in rural communities throughout rural America.


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