Braun, Bladwin lead Bipartisan Bill to ease barriers to farmland ownership for next generation

WASHINGTON – Friday, U.S. Senators Mike Braun and Tammy Baldwin introduced new legislation to break down barriers to farming and agricultural land ownership and help more Americans pursue careers in agriculture. For the first time, the bipartisan Farm Transition Act of 2024 would set up the Commission on Farm Transitions to study the issues impacting the transition of agricultural operations to the next generation of farmers and ranchers and make recommendations to address those barriers. 

“America’s food security is national security,” said  Senator Mike Braun. “With one in three farmers preparing to retire in the next decade, we cannot afford to stand back and watch as the nation’s agricultural industry reaches a tipping point without a plan to feed the future. This is a big priority for Hoosier farmers and families, so I released our Aging Farmers report in October. A lot of farms are going to go up for sale, and we need to make sure that America isn’t bought up acre by acre by foreign competitors. To ensure America’s future in agriculture, we must proactively attract and retain farmers, increase agriculture innovation, streamline regulations, and protect domestic agriculture. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan bill with Sen. Baldwin because we need to make it easier for folks to get into farming and encourage family farms to go from generation to generation.”

Senator Tammy Baldwin

“Wisconsin’s farmland is not only critical to our state’s identity, but it’s also one of Wisconsin’s most valuable assets, contributing to our local economies, safeguarding our national food security, and putting our state on the map with world-class products,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin. “As we reach a pivot point between generations of farmers, many Wisconsinites interested in a career in agriculture are being locked out because of the cost and having to compete with Wall Street investment firms buying up farmland. We must do more to protect our agricultural land and allow more hard-working Wisconsin farmers to take over the family farm or start their own. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to help usher in the next generation of Wisconsin farmers, ranchers, and growers.”

As of 2021, seniors aged 65 and older owned more than 40 percent of the agricultural land in the United States, according to the American Farmland Trust. This suggests an impending transfer of more than 370 million acres of farmland in the next two decades. Despite the current and projected increase in transfers of agricultural land ownership, young and beginning farmers and ranchers struggle to afford purchasing farms. 

One factor is the amount of farmland bought by investment firms, which has steeply risen more than 230% from 2008 to 2023. Additionally, the number of acres owned by foreign entities increased by nearly 65 percent between 2010 and 2021 to 40 million acres.

Agricultural land loss and access to capital contribute to this challenge. Between 2001 and 2016, 11 million acres of land were paved over or converted to uses threatening agriculture’s future – a rate of 2,000 acres of productive agricultural land a day. Wisconsin lost 10 percent of its farms and 30 percent of its dairy farms in a five-year period, according to 2022 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Additionally, most farmland is not sold on the open market and is often sold only to well-capitalized, well-established buyers. 

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized the Commission on Farm Transitions to investigate barriers to farm and agricultural land ownership, but the USDA never established the Commission. The Farm Transition Act of 2024 would reauthorize the Commission on Farm Transitions and require the USDA to establish it within 60 days of enactment and address these barriers.

The 10-member Commission is tasked with studying issues impacting the transition of agricultural operations to the next generation of farmers and ranchers and making subsequent recommendations to address them, including: 

  • The availability of quality land, necessary infrastructure, affordable credit, adequate risk management tools, and apprenticeship and mentorship programs;
  • The state of current agricultural asset transfer strategies and potential improvements;
  • Incentives to facilitate agricultural asset transfers to the next generation of farmers and ranchers, including an assessment of how current federal tax policy impacts lifetime and estate asset transfers and impacts individuals seeking to farm who do not have a farm family lineage, as well as recommendations for new or modified incentives;
  • The effectiveness and potential improvements of transition assistance programs and incentives;
  • Barriers faced by farmers and ranchers in the ability to transfer, inherit, or purchase agricultural assets, including land and
  • The impact of leasing and ownership trends by foreign persons or entities.

Representatives Trent Kelly (R-MS-01), Yadira Caraveo (D-CO-8), Zach Nunn (R-IA-03), and Don Davis (D-NC-01) also introduced the Farmland Transitions Act of 2024 in the House today. 

Bill text here