Historic Recognition for Veterans in 2014 Farm Bill
Prepared by Ed Cox, Agricultural Law Center, Drake Law, for the Farmer Veteran Coalition
Updated July 28, 2015
The 2014 Farm Bill created several new USDA program priorities for farmer veterans. This blogpost summarizes these new priorities. Veterans and supporters interested in finding out more about these programs can contact our Government Resources Advisor at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 530.756.1395.
Veteran Farmer or Rancher Definition
Veteran Farmer Defined:
Definition of Veteran Farmer or Rancher – The term “veteran farmer or rancher” means a farmer or rancher who has served in the Armed Forces and who:
- has not operated a farm or ranch; or
- has operated a farm or ranch for not more than 10 years.
“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. This includes service in the:
- Marine Corps
- Air Force
- Coast Guard
- Army National Guard
- Air National Guard
Land Transition IncentiveS
The CRP Transition Incentive Program gives owners of land coming out of the Conservation Reserve Program additional CRP payments if they lease or sell the land to a Veteran Farmer.
- Two additional years of CRP payments to the landowner;
- Allows the veteran farmer 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 organic certification 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 the Continuous CRP signup.
- 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.
VETERAN PREFERENCES AND PRIORITIES
Conservation Programs. 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 requires a preference be given to veteran farmers and ranchers that fall within at least one of the set-aside categories. Veteran Farmers now receive additional points when applying for such programs. These points are in addition to any points granted for being a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher.
Value-Added Producer Grants. This program is one of the few instances in which farmers may directly receive grants for their private 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. It’s important to note that you do not receive additional points for multiple categories. For instance, you do not receive double the points for being a beginning farmer or rancher and a veteran farmer or rancher.
Microloans are available through the USDA Farm Service Agency and have a simpler application process and less stringent requirements regarding farm management experience than traditional FSA loans.
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 limits the interest rate that may be charged to farmer veterans using Micro-Loans. Veteran Farmers may choose the Microloan Interest rate, which is set at 5%, or the regular interest rate for USDA Operating Loans. Currently, regular interest rates are below 5%, making them the better choice. As interest rates rise, the 5% Microloan rate may become more appealing. Essentially, Veteran Farmers will not pay more than 5% on Microloans.
Outreach and Assistance for Veteran Farmers and Ranchers
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant. The BFRDP, administered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), provides grants to organizations providing training, education, outreach, and technical assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers. Under the 2014 Farm Bill assistance for veteran farmers is made a priority under the BFRDP by specifically including “agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training” as an eligible service and providing a 5% set aside of BFRDP funding for programs serving veterans.
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 veterans 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 veteran characteristics and implementation of new veteran 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.