What do young producers want in the next farm bill? Legislation that helps protect legacies

Feb 24, 2023

By Allison Jenkins

As the clock counts down to the farm bill’s expiration in September, anticipation is growing about what the 2023 legislation will include and how it will impact food and agricultural producers.

In particular, young farmers—including Caleb Ragland of Magnolia, Kentucky, and Drew Peterson of Salem, South Dakota—are keeping close tabs on the process. With families to support and legacies to safeguard, both want to see policies that help protect their farming future.

“For the risk that farmers take, there needs to be a safety net,” says Ragland, who serves on the Kentucky Soybean Association board and as secretary of the American Soybean Association board. “For me, that means keeping a strong crop insurance program, first and foremost. Without it, the risk would be more than many farmers could stand. It’s not about guaranteeing profitability but guaranteeing stability.”

Caleb Ragland, a ninth generation Kentucky farmer, says the safety net provided by the farm bill is imperative. Pictured here with his wife, Leanne, and sons Charlie, 12, Cory, 10, and Carter, 7.

Ragland, a ninth-generation farmer, expects this year’s crops to be the most expensive he’s ever planted. The 36-year-old grows soybeans, corn and wheat with his wife, Leanne, and their three sons on about 4,000 acres.

“It won’t be long until my oldest may want to get involved,” Ragland says. “A safety net is vital, especially for young folks who don’t have the equity or financial backing to get started. That’s a big part of the farm bill’s purpose: giving the American farmer confidence to put out a crop and know he can keep the lights on.”

Farming is also a long family tradition for Peterson, who continues to work the land his great-great-grandfather bought in 1902. Today, the 37-year-old farms with his father, Steven, running a 900-head cow/calf and backgrounding operation while raising 4,000 acres of soybeans and corn.

“I’m fifth generation on this farm, and that’s truly an honor,” Peterson says. “You always have the next generation in mind. Nobody, including myself, wants to be one who loses the farm. I don’t intend to be that one.”

Drew Peterson, pictured with his wife, Lauren, farms the land his great-great-grandfather bought in 1902 and says a farm bill that protects crop insurance and other risk management tools is vital to keep the tradition growing.

In fact, this past year, Peterson and his wife, Lauren, bought his brother’s interest in the operation. The bold move not only solidifies their long-term commitment to farming but also underscores the importance of the farm bill’s safety net.

“We took the plunge, and we’re excited,” said Peterson, who serves as secretary of the South Dakota Soybean Association, “but we are now deeply leveraged and need the support the farm bill provides. I can’t operate without crop insurance, for instance, and the government cost-share assistance that helps us afford it.”

In addition to protecting crop insurance and other risk management provisions, Peterson says he’d like to see additional incentives for conservation practices in the new bill.

“But keep them voluntary,” he adds. “We do not want mandated practices. I would rather have a carrot than a stick.”

Peterson encourages fellow farmers to talk with lawmakers about what they want in the next farm bill and says he’s learned firsthand about the importance of such constituent contacts. He was elected as a first-time South Dakota state representative in November 2022.

“I’m thrilled to step into the arena as a voting legislator,” Peterson says. “Having been on both sides of the process, I can truly say that elected officials want to know what we need and where we stand to help them make the right votes and put the right policies in place.”