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Senate Ag Leaders Introduce Bipartisan Farmer Veteran Bill
Kansas Ag Connection - 05/11/2018

U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., joined Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Thursday to introduce legislation that expands support for military veterans in agriculture. The Farmer Veteran Opportunity Act of 2018 makes all new veterans eligible for support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bill also improves access for farmer veterans across eight existing initiatives to make risk management tools more affordable, expand access to land and capital, and prioritize training for veterans.

"When our veterans retire from active service, whether here or abroad, they need certainty and opportunity," said Roberts. "I'm proud to cosponsor a bill that allows men and women who have served our country to return to the farm."

"Agriculture offers our veterans rewarding careers and the opportunity to continue serving our nation by feeding our families," said Stabenow. "After putting their lives on the line, our veterans should be first in line for support that can help them find jobs in farming and grow their agricultural businesses."

The legislation expands support to all new veterans who may have existing careers in agriculture. Currently, the USDA's veterans initiatives are designed to support those who are starting a career in agriculture for the first time. This common-sense change ensures that all new farmer veterans will be able to benefit from support, whether they are just starting a career on the farm or looking to expand their operation.

Additionally, the bill would help farmer veterans receive better assistance from existing farm programs, including more-affordable risk management tools like crop insurance to help them recover from unexpected losses.

Because many farmer veterans also face barriers to accessing land and capital to start or expand their farms, the legislation would make farmer veterans eligible for down payment loans when purchasing real estate and would provide priority access for reduced interest rates on loans to buy farmland or finance production equipment. Veterans would also receive priority access for additional training and education opportunities to help them navigate their crop insurance options and meet food safety standards.

The Farmer Veteran Opportunity Act of 2018 builds on a number of provisions in the current Farm Bill that Senators Stabenow and Roberts included to strengthen support for farmer veterans. For the first time, the Farm Bill created a Military Veteran Agricultural Liaison position to advocate for farmer veterans at the USDA. In order to help farmer veterans overcome the barriers many new farmers face, the Farm Bill prioritized veteran access to training resources and financing through short-term, low-interest loans. The bill also made it easier to participate in voluntary conservation initiatives.

The bipartisan bill is supported by the Farmer Veteran Coalition, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Michael O'Gorman, executive director, Farmer Veteran Coalition, said, "Our modern all-volunteer military now disproportionately comes from our most rural communities. A growing number of our returning servicemen and women are looking to farming as a way to support their families and continue serving their nation. Support for these men and women, as proposed by Senators Roberts and Stabenow, is vital to strengthening our veteran and rural communities."

Roger Johnson, president, National Farmers Union, reported, "Giving veterans opportunities to succeed in civilian life is not only the right thing to do, it's also important to the future of agriculture in this country. As the average age of the American farmer nears 60, a portion of the 200,000 military personnel discharged every year stand willing and ready to take over the vast amounts of land and family farm operations that will be passed down. The Farmer Veteran Opportunity Act would aid these transitions and ensure the continued success of veterans in agriculture by improving their access farmer to a wide variety of farm programs like crop insurance, guaranteed loans, CRP land transfer, and risk management education. Farmers Union applauds the leadership of Sens. Roberts and Stabenow for taking a holistic approach to ensuring the success of veterans who enter the field of agriculture."

Zippy Duvall, president, American Farm Bureau Federation, said, "American Farm Bureau Federation welcomes introduction of the Support for Veteran Farmers Act of 2018. Rural America has always answered the call to serve. This legislation recognizes that commitment to country and the sacrifice of military service. We look forward to working with Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow to get the Support for Veteran Farmers Act enacted into law."

Patrick Murray, associate director, Veterans of Foreign Wars said, "The VFW is proud to support this important piece of legislation that would provide relief, assistance and empowerment for our Veteran Farmers across the country. We applaud Senators Stabenow and Roberts for their continuing efforts to aid veterans and their pursuit of meaningful careers in agriculture."

Tom Porter, legislative director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, added, "Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America strongly commends Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts for introducing the Farmer Veteran Opportunity Act, to increase opportunities for veterans to succeed in agriculture careers. America's military veterans are entrepreneurial and motivated to succeed, and this legislation takes concrete steps to further empower them."

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