That’s according to renowned New York Times columnist and sustainable agriculture writer Mark Bittman who this week described the uncertainty facing America’s agriculture industry due to an aging populace of farmers. Bittman noted that while close to 30 percent of farmers are over the age of 65, less than 10 percent have yet to celebrate their 35th birthday.
The numbers are indeed startling, but it’s not all doom and gloom, as Bittman pointed out:
“There are credible efforts to provide farmworkers new opportunities, like land trusts for preserving farmland. There are also dozens of federal and state programs aimed at helping farmers get started, as well as farm business incubators like the one run by Glynwood in the Hudson River Valley. But the barriers to obtaining land remain high.”
Among the largest of those dozens of federal programs is very likely the Farm Credit System’s (FCS) Young, Beginning and Small Farmers Program, which is supposed to specifically provide lending to this community.
Unfortunately for small farmers, a lack of oversight has steadily depressed the FCS’s total volume of loans to this community over the past ten years. At the same time, the FCS’s net income has robustly increased. Although this program was established with noble intentions, it has, in effect, become the antithesis of what it was established to do.
To complicate matters even further, the FCS has steadfastly defended its taxpayer subsidies that it uses to not only box out fair competition that would better serve farmers, but also allows it to participate in multi-million deals with corporate giants like Verizon and Cracker Barrel.
Congress should need no further persuasion that something is inherently wrong when a government program is disadvantaging the communities it was established to serve.
Oversight would be the best step to putting well-intended programs and agencies like the FCS back on course.