Connecticut farms don’t look like farms in other parts of the country. They are smaller, grow a more diverse array of crops, and are often run by young or beginning farmers. Our farms are the lifeblood of rural economies and contribute a whopping $2 billion to the state’s economy each year. Since I was elected to the Senate, I’ve made it a priority to spend time listening to our state’s farmers and fighting to ensure federal policy and federal agencies respond to the unique needs of Connecticut farmers.
One of the most important things I can do in Washington is make sure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) responds to the needs of Connecticut farmers, and isn’t just working for large, monocrop farmers. When we passed a new Farm Bill in 2018, I worked to make sure it helped Connecticut, not just large agribusinesses. I am proud that the final bill provided permanent mandatory funding for beginning farmer programs, increased support for local food systems and farmers markets, expanded access to local fruit and fresh vegetables for those struggling with food insecurity, improved agricultural easement programs, and protected farm conservation funding. The final bill also included provisions from my Local Cheese Promotion and Dairy Support Act, increasing the opportunities available to dairy farmers to process their milk into higher value products like cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products.
But we need to do more to support Connecticut farmers. The most recent agriculture census found that nearly one-third of Connecticut farmers are beginning farmers. As the average age of farmers rises, supporting young and beginning farmers is critical to our future food security. That is why I introduced the Student Loan Forgiveness for Farmers and Ranchers Act, which creates a student loan forgiveness program for beginning farmers and ranchers with less than 10 years of experience. The program would also be available to veteran, women, socially-disadvantaged, and minority farmers. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue to advocate for additional funding for programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture that support beginning farmers as well as funding for agricultural extension programs at UCONN that provide vital support for all Connecticut farmers.
As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to remember the valuable lessons learned about the important role of farmers during times of national crisis and continue to support the vital role they play in ensuring American families have access to a wide variety of healthy foods. During the pandemic, I led multiple letters to the USDA urging the Department to provide relief for dairy farmers, and was proud to secure new assistance for dairy farmers like the creation of a $350 million Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program. In addition, I introduced legislation to support restaurants and local food systems, which are critical sources of revenue for Connecticut farmers.