Just after my Blog “Where will Future Organic Farmers of America come from?” was posted, a related announcement came from USDA giving possible solutions to my question. The Agricultural Act of 2014 included funding for organic and sustainable farm initiatives. The latest applications of these funds are programs designed to assist small and medium sized farmers and ranchers!
The announcement came March 10, 2014, from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the National Farmers Union convention. In his opening Statement, Deputy Vilsack said, “The recent Census of Agriculture shows that there is tremendous growth potential for small and mid-sized producers in the American agricultural landscape. USDA is taking a hard look at our existing resources to ensure that they work for producers of all sizes. We’ve adjusted policies, strengthened programs and intensified outreach to meet the needs of small and mid-sized producers. These producers are critical to our country’s agricultural and economic future.”
The USDA plans to increase access to its programs and people by boosting outreach and education. It will adjust policies, expand market news and strengthen the programs so they work for small growers. More information about tools and resources available to small and mid-sized farmers will be rolled out in the coming months on USDA’s Small and Mid-Sized Farmer Resources webpage.
According to the USDA website, the new efforts include:
ACCESS TO CAPITAL
- Changes to the Farm Storage and Facility Loan (FSFL) Program to help small and midsized fruit and vegetable producers access the program for cold storage and related equipment like wash and pack stations.
- Funding for producers under the popular microloan program. USDA launched the microloan program to allow beginning as well as small and mid-sized farmers to access up to $35,000 in loans using a simplified application process.
- Funding for hoop houses to extend the growing season. Hoop houses provide revenue opportunities while also promoting conservation for small and mid-sized farmers.
- Developing tools to help small and midsized farmers and ranchers make sound financial decisions as they plan for their future.
LOCATING MARKET OPPORTUNITIES
- USDA’s Farm to School Program has put seven new Farm- to- School Coordinators on the ground in regional offices to help build direct relationships between small and mid-sized producers and school districts.
- Expanded price, volume, supply and demand information through Market News.
- Broadened the National Farmers Market Directory to include CSAs, on-farm stores and food hubs.
- Launched pilot projects in five states to help small and mid-sized farmers achieve Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certification.
EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES AND OUTREACH
- Created a Learning Guide Series for small and mid-sized producers to help them navigate available USDA resources, available on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website.
- Launched Small Scale Solutions for Your Farm, a series of educational resources designed for both small livestock and fruit and vegetable producers.
The Young Farmers Coalition is an organization providing assistance for young, organic and sustainable farmers to understand and gain access to many of these USDA programs. They are led by farmers and farm service providers that envision a country where young people who are willing to work, get trained and take a little risk can support themselves and their families in farming.
All of these programs are critical for new and beginning farmers to develop deep roots in agriculture. Existing small and medium producers also require assistance and guidance to flourish and continue their roles as stewards of the land. When I attended the USDA listening session at Expo West, these programs were highlighted and this question was posed: How can the USDA fashion these programs so they specifically target certified organic and or beginning organic producers? Organic farms have potential for tremendous growth and vitality. If nurtured, they can produce wealth and prosperity in rural as well as urban settings. Let’s urge the USDA to devise specific programs so that more farmers transition to organic and existing organic farmers grow their acreage. Organic agriculture deserves a special position in USDA’s design to invigorate rural America.