A two-day forum in Washington D.C. next week aims to jump-start a national conversation about the future of farming. The event is sponsored by Drake University Law School’s Agricultural Law Center.
Professor Neil Hamilton, the center’s director, says it’s critical to the future of the country’s food and farming systems to get the stakeholders together. “The idea is to help generate a more robust discussion about the role that government and other private institutions can play in helping support new farmers,” Hamilton says. “It comes out of our recognition that there’s a significant need to replace the farming population that’s aging.”
Hamilton says there’s also an opportunity to create new farms that will work to meet the consumer demand for healthy, locally-grown foods. U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, is on the list of keynote speakers. At least 160 people are registered to take part in the conference, including more than a dozen staff members from the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
“We have about a dozen people from the USDA, there are a dozen universities represented,” Hamilton says. “There are folks from the various organizations that are participating and those range everywhere from farm credit banks to other groups, the land-link programs, a number of states that are working to put farmers and new farmers together.” Hamilton says, “We hope the ideas and conversations at the forum will generate an agenda to increase the commitment needed to develop the programs and public support for a national initiative to sow in the next generation of American farmers.” Similar farm forums have been held in Iowa but they were more “preaching to the choir,” which is why Hamilton says this event will be held in the nation’s capitol.
Hamilton says, “We’ve put on a number of programs over the years here in Des Moines but with this one, given the subject, the whole question of America’s future farming population and the role the USDA and Congress and others can play, it made more sense for us to take the forum on the road and to move it to D.C.” The event is called “The Drake Forum on America’s New Farmers: Policy Innovations and Opportunities.” It’ll run Thursday, March 4, and Friday, March 5, at the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C.