Vilsack Outlines more resources to boost small, mid-sized farmers, ranchers
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
SANTA FE, March 10, 2014 - In an effort to help more small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers build their businesses, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a series of initiatives that include more local and regional market information, new learning guides, improved access to capital, more cost-effective risk management and other tools.
While some of the initiatives are new, others represent a continuation of several existing programs or expansions authorized by the 2014 farm bill.
Vilsack noted during the National Farmers Union annual meeting here today that the recent Ag Census noted “tremendous growth potential” for small and mid-sized farms but emphasized that his agency is looking to provide resources that work for all sizes of producers.
“It's important for us to embrace diversity of crops, diversity of size of operations, and the diversity of operators,” Vilsack told the audience. During a press conference later in the day, he emphasized that “Nothing we are doing here is going to compromise the important role we have for large-scale commercial size operations.”
Many of the initiatives aim to provide better education and access to market data for producers looking to serve growing local and regional food markets. For example, USDA will be introducing a “quick learning series, starting with small and medium-size livestock and poultry producers,” Vilsack said. The focus will be on teaching producers about access to credit, marketing and product promotion. In addition, Vilsack said training would help producers dealing with certification for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Vilsack said the Extension service, as well as all other aspects of USDA will be involved in offering training and education.
“We plan to give folks a one-stop shop for information,” Vilsack emphasized. These resources, which will be released throughout the year, will be available on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food web site.In addition, Vilsack said USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (through Market News), which is now collecting price data on grass-fed beef, will soon begin collecting data about more local food prices, volume and demand.
Other tools will help fruit and vegetable growers, including Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operations, more easily qualify for USDA's Farm Storage and Facility Loan program for storage, washing and packing. Vilsack said these operations would be able to seek a waiver from the requirement that they carry crop insurance or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage when they apply for a Farm Storage and Facility Loan (FSFL) loan.
Both NFU President Roger Johnson and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Policy Director Ferd Hoefner applauded the moves.
The changes in the FSFL program “will greatly improve ability for producers to sell through local and regional markets,” noted Hoefner. In addition, he noted that improvements in the whole farm revenue insurance program offers exciting new opportunities for diversified farming operations.
USDA's summary of all of the changes announced today are listed below.
ACCESS TO CAPITAL
Changes to the Farm Storage and Facility Loan (FSFL) Program to help small and mid-sized 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 mid-sized 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 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. 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 with 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.
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