corn-fieldA national survey of land ownership shows just over 2 percent of farmland will be available for beginning farmers and ranchers in the next year, perhaps 10 percent over the next 5 years.

Traci Bruckner, senior policy associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, says land access is a long-standing problem for those just starting to farm, though she calls the U.S.D.A. report “really disturbing.”

“The continual unaffordability of land and then just what the survey is saying, there’s only going to be 2 percent available for new entrants that don’t have a natural, direct access to land,” Bruckner says. “That is an issue and Congress needs to start taking it seriously. They need to have policies that are more meaningful to help a new generation get started.”

Bruckner says the land access problem needs help at the federal level, with changes that will help young producers who want to farm.

“We need to be serious about beginning farmer policy, not just throwing a few million dollars here and there to help create training and mentoring,” she says. “We need to actually have some meaningful reform on some of the main conventional commodity market-driven programs, like the farm program and the crop insurance program.”

Bruckner says the student loan forgiveness program that is in the works would help beginning farmers with their cash-flow issues. “But at the end of the day,” she says, “if we don’t do something about land access, then none of our other efforts are worthwhile.” While land values have come down some, she notes they’ve been rising for years to levels that make it impossible for beginning farmers and ranchers to buy. The Center for Rural Affairs is based in Lyons, Nebraska.

(By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton)