December 13, 2018

Van Hollen Secures Provisions to Help Veteran, Socially Disadvantaged Farmers in Farm Bill

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) announced that much of his legislation to improve access to assistance for veteran and socially disadvantaged farmers has been included in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Senator’s provisions, originally introduced in his Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Act of 2018 would reauthorize, strengthen, and improve the Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The 2018 Farm Bill also authorizes permanent mandatory funding for the Program, ensuring it has the investment it needs to serve people in Maryland and across the country. This week, the Farm Bill passed the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives – it is now headed to the President’s desk.

Since 1990, the Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program has served as the only USDA program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of veteran, African-American, American-Indian, Asian-American, and Latino family farmers and ranchers. Through this program, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore has received more than $1 million in funding for outreach and assistance to farmers on the Eastern Shore since 2003.

“Whether you’re coming off the battlefield or trying to launch a new career, starting and operating a farm isn’t easy. This program helps veterans and underserved populations get the training and support they need to succeed. We want to expand America’s farming opportunities, and this is an important tool to accomplish that,” said Senator Van Hollen. “I was pleased to introduce this legislation and to work with my colleagues to secure these provisions in the Farm Bill.”

The Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program at USDA has been the primary tool to help our nation’s underserved producers gain access to USDA services. The program is administered by the Office of Outreach and Advocacy and helps ensure that veteran, minority population, and immigrant farmers and ranchers have opportunities to successfully own, operate, and retain farms and ranches, and to equitably participate in USDA programs. The bill reauthorizes the program, which would have expired this year, through 2023. It also makes several programmatic improvements to strengthen the operation of the program.  

The Senator’s proposal was supported by over 100 groups, from the Rural Coalition to the Sierra Club to the National Family Farm Coalition. Background on the proposal, along with a full list of supporting organizations, can be found here.

When the bill was introduced, David Paulk, a veteran and farmer from St. Mary’s County, Maryland said, “When I left the Navy and considered my next career, I never imagined that I could go from a small backyard garden to being a full-time farmer. But I was able to combine my skills from my military service – including the ability to research, organize, manage and complete complex tasks, needed in developing a farm business plan and marketing strategies – with the experience of working on a local farm. That allowed me to open my own 80-acre farm in St. Mary’s County. Senator Van Hollen’s legislation will help put more veterans – and other underserved individuals – on the path to operating and owning their own farms. I appreciate Senator Van Hollen’s efforts on this issue, and I hope my fellow veterans will be able to take advantage of this program.”

“Each year, for the last five years, UMES reaches an average of 120 farmers in Maryland and along the Delmarva Peninsula,” said Berran Rogers, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore’s Small Farm Program coordinator, when the legislation was first announced.  “As a result, socially disadvantaged farmers are in a better position to make improved farm business decisions, gain access to agricultural resources and ultimately realize their dream of owning and operating a farm successfully.  Such an impact would not have been possible without the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers program.”