Sign on Letter for FOTO

The Honorable Pat Roberts Chairman, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry
United States Senate

The Honorable Debbie Stabenow Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry United States Senate
The Honorable K. Michael Conaway

September XX, 2018

Dear Chairs and Ranking Members:
Chairman, Committee on Agriculture U.S. House of Representatives
The Honorable Collin C. Peterson Ranking Member, Committee on Agriculture
U.S. House of Representatives

During the final negotiations and deliberations of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, we the undersigned _____ groups write to express our strong support for permanent investments in both the next generation of farmers as well as our nation’s most chronically underserved farmers – including socially disadvantaged, veteran, new and beginning farmers and ranchers. ​We therefore urge the conference to adopt Section 12301 of the Senate Bill, which establishes the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program​. FOTO efficiently merges the authorizations for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (OASDVFR) program (also known as the 2501 Program).

While we appreciate the continued support for the two programs contained in sections 7507 and 11201 of the House Bill, Section 12301 of the Senate bill more fully ensures that the risk management, credit, and marketing challenges of our new generation of producers are addressed in a timely and practical manner. Senate Section 12301 directly tackles the increased demand for technical assistance by two growing populations of producers: military veteran farmers and ranchers, and historically underserved producers, including Tribal producers and African American, Latino, and Asian Pacific American producers. This investment also helps grow the next generation of farmers that the future of our country’s food and farming system relies on.

The Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program (Sec. 12301 of the Senate Bill) would:

● Provide permanent authority and invest permanent mandatory funding of $50 million split equally between the two linked programs, with authority for additional appropriations up to $50 million in each fiscal year through 2023.

● Increase transparency and accountability to ensure the program remains responsive and accessible to those serving our nation’s most vulnerable farming communities, by establishing an external peer review process and outcomes reporting to assure the complementary needs for direct, hands-on technical assistance in accessing programs, coupled with training and education are met through the community-based organizations and educational institutions best prepared to deliver these services.

● Allow improved function, coordination, and accountability of the two programs with each other, with their overlapping constituencies, and with the relevant Advisory Committees on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, and Minority Farmers and Ranchers housed in the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach, and the Tribal Advisory Committee housed in the Office of Tribal Relations.

For over a decade, the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program (BFRDP) ​has been ​the only USDA program dedicated to training the next generation of farmers. OASDVFR has for almost three decades served as the only Farm Bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of minority farmers and ranchers. In 2014, both programs were expanded to also serve military veterans.

With additional demand for program resources from returning military veterans and increasing numbers of diverse and young farmers, Congress must scale up and make permanent investments in the next Farm Bill to support for our nation’s most underserved communities.

Adequate funding for these critical programs will support new-entry farmers and ranchers including veterans, expand economic development opportunities in rural communities, advance intergenerational land tenure, and promote familial and community wealth for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and veteran producers. We therefore strongly urge the conference committee to accept the Senate language and the important improvements and stability it provides to these vital programs.

Thank you for your consideration and attention to the matter. Sincerely,

cc: Farm Bill Conference Committee

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Posted in Sign On Letters.