Farmers and rural entrepreneurs told the House Committee on Small Business on Wednesday they’re often unaware of federal government resources intended to support them.

Kendell Culp, vice president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, told the lawmakers the word just doesn’t get out about available programs.

“Maybe that's partially the government's responsibility. That's partially the organization's responsibility, agriculture organizations as well, to research those and to see what's available and make sure their memberships aware of those,” Culp told Agri-Pulse in an interview. 

Culp also serves in the Indiana General Assembly and witnesses how government programs intended to spur economic growth and support farms fail to fulfill their missions at the state level as well.

“We appropriate the dollars and we wipe our hands and say, ‘Boy, we got the job done, look at what we did.’ But sometimes that dollars and certainly the information never gets down to the farm gate where it really needs to go,” said Culp.

Witnesses also told lawmakers that although federal government support is available to farms and small businesses, accessing the resources is time consuming, confusing and costly.

“One of the largest challenges that face young farmers today is access to capital,” said Matt Splitter, the owner of a 10,000-acre farm in central Kansas.

“Regulations placed on lending institutions make it difficult to access necessary funding that allows the small farmer and the young farmer to plant their crop. With little to no collateral, the ability to borrow is significantly limited,” said Splitter.

“Other resources such as USDA and FSA (Farm Service Agency) loans are a great alternative. But they're cumbersome and time consuming.”

Culp’s farm in Jasper County, Indiana, produces corn, soybeans, cattle, and hogs. He said he had to rely on a consultant to ensure the paperwork and application for a farm grant was filed correctly.

“If you don't go that route of hiring someone … if you forget to do that or file that on time, then you're liable to repay all of that and lose your grant,” said Culp.

Jennifer Cassaday, owner of Byrd’s Pecan Delights, a small business in Missouri, said regulatory hurdles keep rural small businesses from accessing federal support.

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“I've talked with the local bankers…and I was told that to get an SBA backed loan is pretty well impossible,” Cassaday said. “You will just be drowning in paperwork and it seems to be never ending.”

Rep. Mark Alford, a Missouri Republican who serves on both the House Small Business and Agriculture committees, stressed the need for federal agencies to better communicate and collaborate on programs to help rural communities.

Alford said the Small Business Administration has an Office of Rural Affairs, “but little information is available on what that office is doing and how it's focusing on rural small business.”

None of Wednesday’s witnesses were familiar with the office. Alford said he’d be requesting reports in the coming month for clarity on their work.

Culp is also a member of the Board of Directors of the American Soybean Association and told the committee the first thing Congress can do to help rural communities is to pass a new farm bill.

“The farm bill impacts the well-being of all Americans and while it's not the fix for everything… the rural development title of the farm bill offers programs that can add tools that communities need as they plan for future and future growth,” said Culp.

Both lawmakers and witnesses at the hearing stressed the importance of healthy and vibrant rural communities and small businesses.

“Rural communities are the backbone of this nation and in many cases agriculture, along with those small businesses, are the economic drivers of those communities,” Culp said.

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