Conservation Funding Helps Keep Family Farms Viable

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I’m an 81-year-old, seventh-generation farmer working with my son T. Richard on a multigenerational grain and hay farm in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. We grow corn, soybeans, wheat, rye, and hay.

I'm proud to see him out there by himself at night, and regret that I can’t always join him. As the Bible says in John 3:16: “That God so loved the world, he gave his only son.” I don’t know if I’d be able to do that, but I know I am fortunate to have a son who wants to continue the family farming tradition. He is raising his two teenage sons in the same tradition. God only knows what their choices will be.

The latest USDA agriculture census numbers show that the number of farmers over the age of 65 is greater than that of younger farmers. Almost 1.3 million farmers are now at or beyond retirement age, while just 300,000 farmers are under the age of 35.

Passing a new farm bill that addresses these challenges is the best way to help create an environment that attracts new farmers and enables families to pass their farms on to the next generation. In recent years, some federal programs have been put in place to help do that. 

We have participated in USDA cost-sharing programs that encourage cover crops (plants grown to benefit the future growth of other crops) and no-tillage practices that improve soil health, with less erosion and fewer cost inputs. We have seen significant increases in yield, with the same dollars invested.

In 2022, Congress made a generational $20 billion investment to help farmers adopt tried-and-tested conservation practices. Pennsylvania has already gotten $255 million to help farms in our commonwealth.

But unfortunately, like everything else it seems, the funding has been politicized, and it’s at risk in the upcoming farm bill. There’s nothing partisan about taking care of our soil, planting cover crops, and keeping our land viable year after year. That’s what conservation funding encourages, and it’s just good commonsense.

We need our lawmakers in Washington to maintain conservation funding and make sure that it’s included in the upcoming farm bill.

I’m proud that my son is still out managing the farm where I have worked. I’m proud that he’s using good practices that we’ve learned and refined, which have kept our farm healthy for years.

We need Washington to protect conservation funding so that the next generation of Pennsylvania farmers, and the generation after that, can continue to be stewards of the land.

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