SANTE FE, N.M. — New and expanded efforts to connect small
and mid-sized farmers and ranchers to U.S. Department of Agriculture resources
were announced at the National Farmers Union convention.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the convention’s
keynote address that these efforts can help small and mid-sized farmers build
stronger businesses, expand to reach new and larger markets and grow their
Efforts include improved access to USDA resources, revised
risk management tools that better fit the needs of smaller producers, additional
support for hoop houses and expanded collection of valuable market news
USDA also is introducing a series of education 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.
The new efforts announced by the Vilsack include:
Access To Capital
* Changes to the Farm Storage and Facility Loan program were made to help
small and mid-sized fruit and vegetable producers access the program for cold
storage and related equipment such as wash and pack stations. Diversified and
smaller fruit and vegetable producers, including Community Supported Agriculture
programs, now are eligible for a waiver from the requirement that they carry
crop insurance or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program coverage when they
apply for a FSFL loan. FSFL also can be used to finance hay barns and grain
* Funding is available 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 its debut in 2013, USDA has issued more than 4,900 microloans totaling $97
* Funding is offered 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 19 states as part of USDA’s StrikeForce for Rural Growth and
* USDA is developing a whole-farm insurance policy that will better meet the
needs of highly diversified producers, particularly small and mid-sized 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.
Organic producers will benefit from the elimination of a previously required 5
percent surcharge on crop insurance premiums.
Locating Market Opportunities
* USDA’s Farm to School program has put seven new 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 program 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.
* USDA is expanding price, volume, supply and demand information through
Market News. Market News now is collecting price data on grass-fed beef to arm
producers will real pricing information from the sector. Market News also soon
will 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
* The National Farmers Market Directory was broadened 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 more than two million hits annually.
* Pilot projects were launched in five states to help small and mid-sized
farmers achieve Good Agricultural Practice 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
* A Learning Guide Series was created 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 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.
* USDA 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
The recently-signed farm bill provides USDA with more direct
resources to support small and mid-sized farmers, including:
* Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which provide 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 farm bill provides $100 million total to the program over the next five
* 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 five
* 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 bill provides $30 million annually.
The USDA recently released its fiscal year 2015 budget,
which includes additional resources to help small and mid-sized farmers and
* $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
* $2.5 million for a new Food and Agriculture Resilience Program for
Military Veterans that promotes research, education and extension activity for
* $11 million for the Value-Added Producer Grants Program that provides an
additional $63 million in mandatory funding that is available until
* $2.5 million in funding for the National Agricultural Statistics Service
to conduct a survey on land ownership and farm financial characteristics that
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.