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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.) introduced legislation to improve access to assistance for certain groups of farmers. The Assist Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Act of 2018 would reauthorize, strengthen, and improve the Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program at the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The legislation was co-sponsored by Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M). The bill is supported by over 100 groups, from the Rural Coalition to the Sierra Club to the National Family Farm Coalition. Background on the proposal, along with a full list of supporting organizations, can be found here.
 
"Whether you're coming off the battlefield or trying to launch a new career, starting and operating a farm isn't easy. This legislation will help veterans and underserved populations get the training and support they need to succeed," said Senator Van Hollen. "We want to expand America's farming opportunities, and this bill is an important tool to accomplish that. I'm proud to introduce this legislation with my colleagues, and we will work to include it in the next Farm Bill."

"Since 2003, New Mexico has received 25 grants through this program that have helped underserved communities including veterans to spur economic growth and create jobs in ranching and farming," Representative Lujan Grisham explained. "This program is critical for underserved populations to gain access to USDA's credit, commodity, conservation, and other programs and services, all of which result in a real return for every dollar invested. For example, USDA recently awarded the Desert Forge Foundation a $200,000 grant to help provide training and meaningful employment to veterans on their three successful working farms in Albuquerque."
 
For nearly three decades, the Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program at USDA has been the primary tool to help our nation's underserved producers gain access to USDA services. The program is administered by the Office of Outreach and Advocacy and helps ensure that veteran, minority population, and immigrant farmers and ranchers have opportunities to successfully own, operate, and retain farms and ranches, and to equitably participate in USDA programs. The bill reauthorizes the Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, which expires this year, through 2023. It also makes several programmatic improvements to strengthen the operation of the program.
 
"When I left the Navy and considered my next career, I never imagined that I could go from small backyard garden to being a full-time farmer," said David Paulk, a veteran and farmer from St. Mary's County, Maryland. "But I was able to combine my skills from my military service – including the ability to research, organize, manage and complete complex tasks, needed in developing a farm business plan and marketing strategies – with the experience of working on a local farm. That allowed me to open my own 80-acre farm in St. Mary's County. Senator Van Hollen's legislation will help put more veterans – and other underserved individuals – on the path to operating and owning their own farms. I appreciate Senator Van Hollen's efforts on this issue, and I hope my fellow veterans will be able to take advantage of this program."
 
"Each year, for the last five years, UMES reaches an average of 120 farmers in Maryland and along the Delmarva Peninsula," said Berran Rogers, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore's Small Farm Program coordinator. "As a result, socially disadvantaged farmers are in a better position to make improved farm business decisions, gain access to agricultural resources and ultimately realize their dream of owning and operating a farm successfully. Such an impact would not have been possible without the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (OASDVFR) program.
 
"We need to fight for all farmers—and that includes making sure we're advocating for Minnesotans and Americans who may face unique barriers to successfully owning and operating farms," said Senator Smith. "As a member of the Senate Ag Committee, I'm proud to support this bill because supporting a diverse and growing farming industry is good for families and good for our economy."
 
"Farmers are the backbone of the economy in Alabama and across our country," said Senator Jones. "The Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program has provided opportunities for underserved members in the agriculture community for decades. I am proud to join legislation that extends and builds on this important resource for veteran and minority farmers and ranchers."
 
"From cattle ranchers to chile growers, New Mexico's farmers and ranchers help feed the nation and the world while growing our state's economy," said Senator Udall. "But with our farming workforce rapidly aging, it's critical that we find smart ways to empower a new and diverse generation of farmers and ranchers. On the Agriculture Appropriations Committee, I'll keep fighting for resources for common-sense programs to lift barriers and help open doors for hopeful new farmers – particularly veterans and those from underserved communities -across our state, from Rio Arriba to Doña Ana county."
 
"Ensuring a diverse generation of farmers and ranchers have access to assistance programs is important to continuing New Mexico's long tradition in agriculture," said Senator Heinrich."By improving access to the Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program at USDA we can support New Mexico farmers and ranchers, create jobs and strengthen our state's economy."
 
"The Outreach to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program helps underserved communities gain access to USDA's credit, commodity, and conservation programs," said Representative Luján. "This legislation restores funding to the program and makes key improvements to increase the effectiveness of this program to support New Mexico's veteran and minority farmers and ranchers."
 
"OASDVFR is a critical program that has helped community based groups and 1890 Universities, such as University of Maryland Eastern Shore, reach out to African American and other small farmers and ranchers and effectively connect them with what USDA has to offer. There is no substitute for this hands-on assistance to help Maryland families hold onto historic black owned land and build new markets for their products," said Quinton Robinson, a Maryland farmer and Interim Policy Advisor National Family Farm Coalition.
 
"For nearly 3 decades, the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (OASDVFR) Program has been USDA's primary tool to assure our nation's historically underserved producers secure real access to USDA program that help farmers and ranchers care for their land and water, and build viable and sustainable farming operations. The Rural Coalition and our members have supported the program since its inception and we are deeply grateful to Senator Van Hollen and Senator Smith, and Rep. Lujan Grisham for taking leadership to extend and improve this critical program," said Lorette Picciano, Executive Director of the Rural Coalition.
 
Text of the legislation can be found here.

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