Lindsey Lusher Shute on Building a Future with Farmers (Full Transcript)

Banks forgot how to loan to us. There is now something called the student loan, which takes hundreds of dollars from your bank account every month for decades. Supply chains are in shambles and the federal government is writing policy to basically perpetuate what we already have. The structural environment that we as farmers are working in today is essentially the same that has been driving farmers out of business for decades.

In response to the challenges that we as farmers were facing, I helped to co-found the National Young Farmers Coalition. We are a team of farmers and consumers that want to see at least a million more farmers in the United States. And we know that big change is necessary to make that happen. We are pushing for innovation in conservation easements to include affordability. We are reforming policy. And we are doing what we can to create a permanent home for independent, sustainable, diversified and organic farmers in the United States.

Last year we did a survey of 1,000 farmers across the country. We asked them, what do you need. And they told us that their number one need is capital. Getting the money to start a farm is really tough. And of course, banks and private interests, I mean they have a role. Investors have a role to play in all of this.

But history teaches us that getting money to farmers is way too important to leave to private interests alone. That’s why the federal government through the Farm Service Agency makes very low interest loans to farmers and Republican President Theodore Roosevelt helped start the Farm Credit Cooperative in 1908. These institutions can do so much more to help the next generation of farmers get started.

Take the Farm Service Agency. They are really stepping up. We’ve worked with them to change their rules to make modern training programs, such as apprenticeships help to qualify young people for one of their loans. We also advocated for micro-lending by the federal government to farmers. And guess what? They listened. They launched a new micro-lending program just this January. Super exciting, right? But these are administrative changes. These are things that the Agency has been doing while Congress has been forgetting to pass a farm bill. They can only do so much.

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Actually in the farm bill, Congress, brilliantly, wrote in there that this Farm Service Agency can only lend up to $300,000 to a farmer who wants to buy a farm. When many of us in this room probably realize that in a lot of regions $300,000 is going to hardly buy you a house. And to top it all off this Agency — this is unbelievable to me — this Agency has no permanent funding in the farm bill. So every year they are at the mercy of the Appropriations Committee and farmers are left to wait on loan decisions.

If you want to buy a farm and no one’s going to lend to you except the Farm Service Agency, which is the case a lot of times because traditional lenders think farmers are very risky, which you know can be true, you have to go out and hope that you can find a farm for $300,000. Say you do.

Then you have to go to the owner of that farm and you have to beg them to wade with you through months of bureaucracy while you apply for this loan and just hope that there is going to be a check on the other end. This is no way for our most important farm lender to have to operate. And it is no way for us to get this next generation of farmers started on land when we expect that 70% of all farmland is going to be changing hands in the next 20 years. They are more important than ever. And we have got to help them do their jobs and serve the next generation more effectively.

Speaking of farmland, farmland as you have probably heard in the newspaper is selling for many more times what a working farmer can afford. We need the land trust community to step up and work with government partners to create affordable farmland.

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So here in Manhattan on this island, you know you have affordable housing so regular people can continue to live here. Well, in our rural communities we need affordable farms so farmers can continue to farm and own land. And in the Midwest, we’ve got to trade some of those subsidies that are growing megafarms for incentives to help young and beginning farmers get ground. They need that land.

But the National Young Farmers Coalition, we are not waiting on Congress. As I said before they forgot to pass the farm bill in October and the extension that they passed in January they actually decided I don’t know if Vice President Biden was aware of this but he and his colleagues cut all training funding for beginning farmers. The beginning farmer and rancher development program now has zero funding. We are rebuilding local farmer to farmer networks on the ground. We have coalitions of young farmers that are forming all over the country.

Our Hudson Valley group that I am a part of, we get together to share a meal, put plastic on a greenhouse and we are now using our combined purchasing power to bring down the cost of animal feed. So more of the farmers in our group can offer chickens, eggs, pigs. It’s great. We can work together and solve a lot of these problems.

We are now taking this farmer to farmer model and we are applying it to technology. We helped to launch a project called Farm Hack, which is farmers, programmers, engineers coming together to develop open source tools to help independent farmers stay competitive. You know the National Young Farmers Coalition, we are getting a lot done. But there is so much more to do and we cannot do it alone.

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