Sacramento - September 1. 2017.
Governor Brown today signed into law the California Guild's bill (Assembly Bill 376, Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside) designed to support access by California’s military veterans to Veteran Farmer benefits available for those desiring to enter careers as farmers and ranchers.
AB 376 creates a landmark State/Federal partnership ensuring that significant federal programs and resources provided by the 2014 United States Farm Bill will be made available to military veterans seeking careers as farm operators or ranchers. Federal resources will be strengthened by identifying compatible State programs and resources.
AB 376 addresses the looming crisis in our nation’s demand for more farmers. A United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2012 report estimated the average age of existing farm operators is 58 years and one third are over 65. Farmers over the age of 55 control more than half of the country’s farmland, and one in two is likely to retire in the next decade.
Karis Gutter, the USDA’s first military veterans’ agriculture liaison notes: “When you look at the population growth, we’re naturally going to need more and more producers to keep pace with the growing demand. The veterans’ cadre looks very promising for us.”
To address this pressing need, the USDA is calling for at least 100,000 new farmers and ranchers in the coming years. In 2014, Congress included military veterans as a distinct classification of farmers for the first time in the history of United States Farm bills and, as a result, the 2014 United States Farm Bill recognized our military veterans as a promising population to enter careers as farm operators and ranchers by offering an impressive array of federal resources. Federal resources available to military veterans include, but are not limited to: 1) farm and home loans; 2) micro-loans; 3) education and training; 4) business management; 5) skills acquisition in natural resource conservation practices through the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and others.
Bob McFarland, California Guild President notes: “This State and Federal partnership created by the Guild's AB 376 forges a unique collaboration. Federal resources and money will flow into California, assisting our military veterans finding peace and new careers as farmer and ranchers."
McFarland added how proud he was of the Guild members' thriving grassroots legislative program, and the remarkable acheivements of Diana Rude, the Guild's Legislative Advocate.
The measure’s author, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-Oceanside) -- himself a retired Marine Colonel having served 28 years, notes: “Supporting our veterans’ ability to draw down federal money and transition into a field of such high demand will create security and stability for our State’s agriculture industry and for our veterans shifting to civilian life.”
Specifically, AB 376 authorizes the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, in partnership with the California Department of Veterans Affairs (Cal Vet) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to identify and disseminate relevant state and federal programs for purposes of collaboration and veteran outreach. Some examples include: 1) CDFA’s Healthy Soils Initiative and the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service; 2) The Cal Vet Home and Farm Loans and USDA’s direct farm loans and micro-loans; and 3) The America’s Job Center of California[i], offering no-cost employment and training services to job seekers and employers, and the compatible employment and training resources offered through the Federal Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program.
Michael O’Gorman of the Davis Farmer Veterans Coalition, whose central purpose is assisting veterans to enter farming and ranching careers, has supported the measure stating: “This bill will greatly expand awareness of existing state programs and avenues to leverage compatible federal resources offered through the 2014 United States Farm bill.”
Guild President McFarland further noted: “An important mission of the California Guild is to build sustainable communities and support small farming. Creating new opportunities for our returning military veterans to work with the land is a wonderful bridge builder between generations and philosophies. This program brings all of us together."