USDA funding plan, web tool aimed at helping beginning farmers

By Spencer Chase

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 29, 2015 - The Department of Agriculture on Thursday announced plans to prioritize $5.6 billion in funding over the next two years to help beginning farmers and ranchers get started.

Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden said the action is aimed at increasing participation in existing USDA programs aimed at new and beginning producers by 6.6 percent.

USDA also announced the creation of a new website that will show beginners how their operations might be eligible for government resources. USDA said the website was developed after feedback from new and beginning producers who were unfamiliar with what USDA programs could do for them. The site also contains general information such as how to formulate a business plan or file taxes as a new small business owner. 

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Harden made the announcement in Louisville, Kentucky, to more than 60,000 attendees of the convention for the National FFA Organization, formerly Future Farmers of America, the largest agricultural youth organization in the country. Harden said the funding prioritization and the new website are “symbolic of the evolution of USDA's efforts to better serve the next generation of farmers and ranchers,” according to a release.

“What began seven years ago with the recognition that the rapid aging of the American farmer was an emerging challenge, has transformed into a robust, transparent, tech-based strategy to recruit the farmers of the future,” Harden said. “No matter where you're from, no matter what you look like, no matter your background, we want USDA to be the first stop for anyone who is looking to be a part of the story and legacy of American agriculture."

According to USDA, the average age of U.S. farmers is 58, and 10 percent of farmland will change hands in the next five years.

The prioritization of funding will facilitate an increase in participation in a number of USDA programs like direct and guaranteed loans, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, crop insurance incentives, and Value-Added Producer Grants, according to the department. For example, 15 percent of funding allocated through VAPG went to new and beginning farmers and ranchers in 2015 to date, and USDA has set a goal of increasing that to 25 percent in 2017. The department plans to provide quarterly updates on progress towards meeting those goals.


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Juli Obudzinski, senior policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, lauded the department's plan, saying the website is a “great advance on anything USDA has offered heretofore” and that it will help confused producers sift through the “bureaucratic minefield for those seeking help in getting started in agriculture.”

She also noted that NSAC “couldn't be more pleased” that USDA has set performance targets for the programs and will be regularly reporting progress on those targets. NSAC said it intends to track USDA's progress in part “through the new government performance and results targets they are setting for themselves,” Obudzinski said.

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