Weekly Column: Farm Bill Support For Veteran Farmers And Ranchers
Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo
The work ethic, experience, diligence and ingenuity of our nation’s veterans lend well to many civilian professions. Some veterans choose to apply their skills to farming and ranching following their military service, and certain federal programs provide tools for former servicemembers transitioning to civilian life or seeking a new career in agriculture production. At the end of last year, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2018 Farm Bill by overwhelmingly bipartisan margins. President Trump then signed this bipartisan bill into law. The law includes provisions supporting U.S. military veterans transitioning from military life into the agricultural sector.
The following are some highlights of the bill that build on programs included in the previous 2014 Farm Bill:
- Extension of benefits to veterans for down payment loans, reduced interest rates on guaranteed loans, disaster assistance coverage and increased educational resources;
- Consolidation of agricultural resources, training, outreach and technical assistance for veteran farmers and ranchers into a single Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program;
- Priority service granted to veterans seeking assistance through certain conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program;
- Business and financial education and other assistance through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Grant Program; and
- Demonstration grants for assistive technologies for disabled veteran farmers.
These are highlights from a Congressional Research Service (CRS) summary of the provisions contained in the enacted 2018 Farm Bill that provide additional support for U.S. military veterans transitioning into agriculture. CRS’s summary can be accessed at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/IF/IF11093. The new Farm Bill also contained a provision requiring a dedicated U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) website to provide veterans with information about USDA programs and support. Information about agricultural assistance for veterans can be accessed at https://www.usda.gov/our-agency/initiatives/veterans. A post on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)’s blog, at https://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/61200/usda-vets-farming-agriculture/, also discusses agricultural opportunities for veterans and provides an overview of federal resources available to veteran farmers, including preferences under most USDA farm credit and conservation programs.
The veterans-related provisions included in the Farm Bill complement ongoing public and private sector efforts to ensure our nation’s veterans and their families have access to adequate personalized resources, training and counseling needed to succeed and pursue their ambitions after their service to our country. The USDA partners with the Department of Defense thought the Transition Assistance Program and SkillBridge programs to teach transitioning servicemembers about the agricultural sector and connect them with job training and employment opportunities. Community efforts also provide support and resources for veteran farmers.
In Idaho, I have been proud to lead the Veterans Education and Workforce Development Coalition, which aims to increase opportunities for jobs and education for veterans in the state. This led to my reintroduction of the bipartisan S. 1555, the Improving Preparation and Resources for Occupational, Vocational, and Educational (IMPROVE) Transition for Servicemembers Act that will enhance counseling, training and assistance to servicemembers returning to civilian life and their families.
As highlighted on USDA’s veterans website, “Preparedness and defense are critical to America’s food and agriculture sectors and to sustaining and growing rural America. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking to military veterans across the country to fill the roles that keep America’s food supply safe and secure, preserve and strengthen rural communities, and restore and conserve the environment.” These federal farm policy incentives can help make it easier for veterans who choose to live in our rural communities to pursue careers in this important field.
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