Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the ongoing congressional battles related to the Farm Bill and how those fights affected ranches for sale. At that point, the passing of a new Farm Bill had already been delayed multiple times, and its future was uncertain. Finally, after over 19 months, numerous partisan battles, the fiscal cliff debacle, and posturing from both sides of the aisle, a new Farm Bill has finally been approved by Congress and signed into law by the President.
As with any legislation that approves such a large amount of government spending ($956 billion over the next ten years), the bill funds a huge number of programs that are all linked in some way to agriculture in the United States. Examples of the programs and areas that will receive a cut of this nearly $1 trillion are: rural development, trade and foreign agriculture, renewable energy, forestry, nutrition, and specialty crops and organics. For an excellent summary of the highlights of the 2014 Farm Bill, as well as information on how this bill compares to the previous bill, you can download the USDA’s 2014 Farm Bill Highlights summary or visit the USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service website for more detailed information.
Given the depth and complexity of the 2014 Farm Bill, one could easily write hundreds of pages attempting to summarize the pros and cons of the new legislation. However, from the perspective of buyers and sellers of ranches for sale, one of the most notable aspects of the new bill is the amount of funding it provides to conservation organizations and local governments to ensure that farms and ranches will remain as productive, agricultural land.
The Agricultural Lands Easement Program provides $1 billion in funding to land conservation organizations and local governments to place conservation easements on productive agricultural lands throughout the United States. Previous iterations of this program have contributed to the protection of over one million acres of productive land, and experts are forecasting that this new program could potentially double the protected acreage.
What is so important about conserving productive farm and ranchland? On the most basic level, United States citizens need food, and we need farms and ranches to produce that food. According to one study, the US loses two acres of productive farmland to non-agricultural development every minute. While it is reasonable to expect that some of our produce, meat, and other commodities can be imported from foreign countries, it would be shortsighted and irresponsible to eliminate our ability to produce food on our own soil. From an economic (and even national security) standpoint, it’s important to have US farms and ranches producing food for US citizens.
Another more long-term benefit of conserving working ranches is that conservation easements can reduce the value of land, making it possible for future generations of ranchers to be able purchase agricultural lands – even in areas where land prices have appreciated significantly. Given the economics of farming and ranching, being able to purchase farmland at a reasonable price can make or break a rancher’s ability to run a profitable operation.
For a great example of a conservation organization that assists Colorado’s ranchers with protecting their land, check out the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust. For almost 20 years, CCALT has worked with Colorado’s agricultural community to “keep ranches as ranches,” protecting over 424,000 acres of productive ranch land throughout Colorado. The 2014 Farm Bill will surely help organizations like CCALT, as well as other hard-working conservation groups, to permanently protect agricultural lands throughout the United States.
Look for future blog posts on how the 2014 Farm Bill will affect other aspects of land ownership, including crop insurance, direct payments, and grants for beginning farmers and ranchers.