The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded researchers from Indiana University a $500,000 grant to study ways that the government can encourage new farm ownership among young and beginning farmers, farmers of color, and women.
The project, “Incentivizing Land Access For Small, Beginning And Socially Disadvantaged Farmers And Ranchers: Research, Extension And Community Of Practice,” will be led by Julia Valliant, assistant research scientist with the IU Ostrom Workshop and IU’s Sustainable Food Systems Science research group. The project will involve several O’Neill School faculty members, including James Farmer, Shellye Suttles, Justin Ross, and Burney Fischer. The researchers will partner with agricultural service provider American Farmland Trust in order to communicate directly with farmers and to establish a community of practice and national advisory team.
“Often, retiring farmland owners prefer to transfer their land to a beginning farmer to help them get started in agriculture — but lots of barriers get in their way,” said Valliant. “We will study policies that aim to diversify access to opportunity in agriculture by helping owners transfer their land to young and beginning farmers and farmers from historically excluded groups.”
New farmers help revitalize rural communities, but struggle to obtain land
According to the project proposal, 70,000 new farms are started in the U.S. every year. New farmers help to bring prosperity to rural communities and make outsized contributions to sustainable agriculture. However, they also face significant obstacles when trying to obtain land.
The market for available farmland is tight. Existing agricultural plots are often consolidated into larger farms or sold for development. Most new farmers do not inherit land and instead struggle to raise enough capital to compete. At the same time, retiring farm owners face disincentives when transferring their land, so they delay doing so during their lifetime and typically transfer to an established landowner.
These problems are compounded for farmers of color and women. Although people of color make up more than a quarter of the U.S. population and provide more than 60% of farm labor, they make up only 3% of agricultural landowners. Women – half the U.S. population – make up less than a quarter of agricultural landowners.
Government programs exist to promote new farm ownership, but are not well understood
Federal and state governments have tried to help beginning farmers overcome these obstacles through financial incentives. However, little research has been done to evaluate their effectiveness.
One way that the government tries to promote new farm ownership is through programs called Land Access Policy Incentives (LAPIs). At the state level, most LAPIs award a refundable state tax credit to a current farm owner who chooses a qualifying beginning farmer as their land’s next operator or owner. Other LAPIs compensate beginning farmers directly. Similar programs exist at the federal level. In total, these efforts involve over $210M of federal and state funding. This month’s American Rescue Plan dedicated part of an additional $1B to address discrimination in land access.
Valliant and her team aim to measure the reach and impact of these programs. They will start by reviewing public documents to study how the programs were designed. They will also interview and survey key stakeholders, including landowners and young, beginning, and marginalized farmers, about their experiences.
“These incentive programs appear to be a win-win-win for entering farmers, sustainable agriculture, and existing landowners. More and more states are creating them through bipartisan agreements, across the aisle,” said Valliant. “But right now the effects of the incentives are not clear, and some of the policy programs need to be better mobilized to reach their intended audiences. In this project, we will figure out policy next steps in diversifying access to agricultural opportunity in the U.S.”
Ultimately, the project aims to help revitalize rural communities by helping a new generation of farmers enter the field – one that is a bit more representational of the communities they serve.
Their research will begin in spring 2021.
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