When the National Young Farmers Coalition formed, they started their work by assessing the challenges faced by beginning farmers. It came as no surprise to many that access to farmland was, and remains, a huge hurdle for farmers just getting started. The cost of land to purchase or lease continue to climb and, combined with the significant investments in starting a new operation, often put a farming career out of reach for many.
We know secure land tenure ensures that farmers are able to invest in place and provide culturally relevant food, medicine, and connection to their communities. That tenure also allows them to invest in practices and management systems that are sustainable, provide resilience, and strengthen the viability of our food system.
Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to this important issue. That is, until 2018, when OEFFA started researching legislative options to support land access for beginning farmers.
We met with former Ohio House Representative John Patterson and Ohio Senator Bob Peterson, had conversations with folks in Minnesota who had recently passed a bill to provide tax incentives for beginning farmers, staffed the OEFFA Begin Farming program, reached out to the Ohio Farmers Union and the Ohio Farm Bureau, and, most importantly, heard from our members.
OEFFA supported legislation to offer tax credits for owners of agricultural assets, including farmland, livestock, buildings, or equipment, who transfer them to a beginning farmer. House Bill 95, or the Family Farm ReGeneration Act, included credits on the following schedule:
- 5 percent of the sale price of assets sold to a beginning farmer, up to $32,000
- 10 percent of the gross rental income in the first three years of a cash rental agreement with a beginning farmer, up to $7,000 per year.
- 15 percent of the cash equivalent in the first three years of a share rent agreement with a beginning farmer, up to $10,000 per year.
This is the same structure utilized with the original Minnesota law. During our outreach and engagement on the bill, we organized a petition so that our members could demonstrate their support, garnering more than 600 signatures. Some OEFFA staff and members also provided testimony on the bill, including Rachel Tayse, Kate Hodges, Dean McIlvaine, Matt Aultman, and Jason Ward.
Thanks to the advocacy of our members and partners, the bill received near unanimous support in the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee. During the last days prior to passage of the bill, changes were made to restrict the tax credit for owners of agricultural assets to 3.99 percent for all classes of transfer-sale, lease, or cost share rental agreement.
Farming on land you don’t own can limit investment in long-term practices that may take years to see positive results, which also benefits communities through cleaner water and better ecosystem functions. It makes sense that we would want to increase the incentive for land leasing so these long-term practices have a better chance of being adopted, but also for the relationship building that may be necessary to secure a more permanent transfer into the future.
While the focus on the tax credits in this bill is the landowner, that is not solely the case. The bill also provides a modest tax credit for beginning farmers that participate in a business management program certified by the Department of Agriculture and/or Ohio land grant colleges, such as the Ohio State University and Central State University.
OEFFA is currently working to ensure that our Begin Farming program is on that list. Its Heartland Farm Beginnings, a year-long farmer-led training and support program, is designed to help early career farmers achieve their goal of creating a sustainable farm business. Through intensive workshops, beginning farmers develop a whole farm business plan through goal setting, financial management, and assessment of resources, skills, and markets. Participants are also paired with a farmer-mentor for one-on-one support.
The USDA has historically disenfranchised black and indigenous farmers, and many of these “underserved” producers still cannot adequately access USDA programs, including credit options for purchasing land. That is one of the reasons OEFFA supported an increased tax incentive for agricultural asset owners that work to transition land and other resources to farmers of color.
So, with the passage of the Family Farm ReGeneration Act, we do two things:
- We celebrate our power to win when we work together; and
- We work to improve the law in the future.
Join us today and continue to build our power to make positive change for a more sustainable food and farm system. If you are already part of the OEFFA family, reach out to our policy staff to share your story and ideas.