In the 2012 ag census, the number of large farms got larger and the number of small farms also got larger, but the number of middle-sized operations continued to decline. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced several new programs designed to help medium, small, and beginning farmers on Monday during a telephone conference with farm broadcasters, “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 resources include additional credit programs, grants, changes in crop insurance, low interest loans for on farm storage and processing facilities, and even new market reports from the USDA Market News Service to help growers of specialty crops. USDA is also introducing a series of educational tools focusing on opportunities for farmers engaged in local and regional food systems. In addition, USDA field staff will be boosting their outreach efforts to small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers.
Vilsack also announced an expansion of the Farm to School program which helps connect local schools with local farms to supply food for the school lunch program, “This program educates educators about the opportunities in their local communities to buy directly from local farmers.” Since 2013, USDA has invested nearly $10 million in Farm to School grants that support schools as they purchase from local and regional sources. While this program is successful in several states, Indiana has lagged in its adoption. Last October, Governor Pence announced a $100K grant for Greenfield schools, but sources have told HAT there are very few documented cases of Hoosier schools participating in the program.
Vilsack maintains, however, that these new programs, along with programs on the new Farm Bill, will help grow this sector of agriculture. He said more small and medium-sized farms help bring diversity to American agriculture, diversity in the size of producers and the crops produced. He added these resources will help returning veterans who want to get into farming get the training and resources they need to get started.
The new efforts announced by the Secretary today 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. Diversified and smaller fruit and vegetable producers, including Community Supported Agriculture programs, are now eligible for a waiver from the requirement that they carry crop insurance or NAP coverage when they apply for a FSFL loan. FSFL can also be used to finance hay barns and grain bins.
- Funding for producers under the popular microloan program. USDA launched the microloan program to allow beginning, small and mid-sized farmers to access up to $35,000 in loans using a simplified application process. Since their debut in 2013, USDA has issued more than 4,900 microloans totaling $97 million.
- Funding for hoop houses to extend the growing season. Hoop houses provide revenue opportunities while also promoting conservation for small and mid-sized farmers. The hoop house cost share program began as a pilot in 2010. Since then, more than 10,000 hoop houses have been contracted. USDA will soon announce an additional $15 million for hoop house development in persistent poverty counties in nineteen states as part of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity Initiative.
- Developing tools to help small and midsized farmers and ranchers make sound financial decisions as they plan for their future. USDA is developing a whole farm insurance policy that will better meet the needs of highly-diversified producers, particularly small and midsized fruit and vegetable growers. Using new tools provided by the Farm Bill, USDA is working to reduce crop insurance costs for beginning farmers and ranchers. And organic producers will benefit from the elimination of a previously-required five percent surcharge on crop insurance premiums.
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. One priority area for Farm to School is creating more opportunities for small and mid-sized livestock and poultry producers. Since 2013, USDA has invested nearly $10 million in Farm to School grants that support schools as they purchase from local and regional sources. In the 2011-2012 school year alone, schools spent nearly $355 million on local and regional food purchases.
- Expanded price, volume, supply and demand information through Market News. Market News is now collecting price data on grass-fed beef to arm producers will real pricing information from the sector. Market News will also soon begin collecting data about local food prices and volume, valuable to small and mid-sized producers engaged in that marketplace. Market News provides real time price, volume, supply, and demand information for producers to use in making production and marketing decisions. Access to timely, unbiased market information levels the playing field for all producers participating in the marketplace.
- Broadened the National Farmers Market Directory to include CSAs, on-farm stores and food hubs. This information will help small and mid-sized producers find new market opportunities. USDA will begin collecting data to update the directory for the 2014 season this spring. The USDA National Farmers Market Directory receives over 2 million hits annually.
- Launched pilot projects in five states to help small and mid-sized farmers achieve Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) certification. GAP certification indicates farmers have met food safety standards required by many retail buyers. Under these pilot programs, small and mid-sized producers will be able to share the costs and fees associated with the certification process as a group. Group GAP efforts are being developed in partnership with small and mid-sized producer groups in Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
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. The first in this series will be for small and mid-sized livestock and poultry producers. Additional Learning Guides will be released later this year. USDA field staff and StrikeForce teams will increase outreach to small and mid-sized producers using the Learning Guides.
- Launched Small Scale Solutions for Your Farm, a series of educational resources designed for both small livestock and fruit and vegetable producers. This includes tips on simple management activities such as planting cover crops to complex structural practices such as animal waste management systems or innovative irrigation devices
2014 FARM BILL
The recently-signed 2014 Farm Bill provides USDA with more direct resources to support small and mid-sized farmers, including:
- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which provides grants to organizations that train, educate and provide outreach and technical assistance to new and beginning farmers on production, marketing, business management, legal strategies and other topics critical to running a successful operation. The 2014 Farm Bill provides $100 million total to BFRDP over the next 5 years.
- Value-Added Producer Grant Program was modified to allow USDA to better target small and mid-sized family farms, beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers, and veterans. The 2014 Farm Bill provides $63 million over the next 5 years.
- Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program is expanded to support both direct-to-consumer opportunities and other supply chain projects such as food hubs. The 2014 Farm Bill provides $30 million annually.
USDA FY2015 BUDGET PROPOSAL
USDA last week released its FY2015 Budget, which includes additional resources to help small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers, including:
- $2.5 million to provide food safety training to owners and operators of small farms, small food processors, and small fruit and vegetable vendors affected by Food Safety Modernization Act.
- $3 million for Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producers Grants Program to ensure historically underprivileged rural Americans have opportunities for cooperative development.
- $2.5 million for a new Food and Agriculture Resilience Program for Military Veterans (FARM-Vets) that promotes research, education, and extension activity for veterans.
- $11 million for the Value-Added Producer Grants Program. The 2014 Farm Bill provides an additional $63 million in mandatory funding that is available until expended.
- $2.5 million in funding for the National Agricultural Statistics Service to conduct a survey on land ownership and farm financial characteristics. This supports an Administration priority that will provide additional demographic data related to small and beginning farmers and ranchers.
- $1.2 million for the Office of Advocacy and Outreach to carry out these responsibilities and the provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill related to outreach to beginning, small, and socially disadvantaged farmers, and ranchers, including veterans, and rural communities.
- $25.7 million for Departmental Administration to maintain critical support activities and oversight for the Department, including management of small and disadvantaged business utilization programs.