Small and midsize farmers open up new avenues for American agriculture across the country. This page offers essential resources and program information to small and midsize farmers on access to capital, land management and conservation techniques, risk management, finding local markets, and other educational tools.
The USDA has made adjustments to the Farm Storage Facility Loan (FSFL) Program to make it easier for small and mid-sized fruit and vegetable producers to use it for cold storage and related equipment such as wash and pack stations. Diversified and smaller fruit and vegetable farmers, including CSAs, can now seek a dispensation from the requirement to have crop insurance or NAP coverage when applying for an FSFL loan. FSFL can also be utilized to fund the construction of hay barns and grain silos.
Producers might get help from the popular microloan program. The USDA established the Microloan Program to provide beginning, small, and mid-sized farmers with access to up to $35,000 in loans through a streamlined application procedure. The loan ceiling will be raised to $50,000 in November 2014. Since their inception in 2013, the USDA has awarded over 8,400 microloans, with 70% of these loans going to beginning farmers.
Farmers obtaining organic certification can also receive cost-share assistance. Organic farming can incorporate cultural, biological, and mechanical approaches that encourage resource cycling, ecological balance, and biodiversity conservation. All small and mid-sized farmers do not practice organic farming. On the other hand, the USDA is prepared to assist those who are interested in the certification process.
Management of Risks
The USDA is developing tools to assist small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers in making sound financial decisions as they plan for the future, such as a whole farm insurance policy that will better meet the needs of highly diversified producers, particularly small mid-sized fruit and vegetable growers. USDA attempts to minimize crop insurance costs for beginning farmers and ranchers by utilizing new Farm Bill instruments. Furthermore, organic producers will profit from abolishing a previously mandated 5% extra on crop insurance rates.
Identifying Market Opportunities
The USDA's Farm to School Program has assigned seven new Farm to School Coordinators to regional offices to assist in developing direct ties between small and mid-sized growers and school districts.
Creating more excellent options for small and mid-sized livestock and poultry farmers is one of Farm to School's top priorities. Since 2013, the USDA has contributed roughly $10 million in Farm to School funds, which help schools buy from local and regional vendors. Schools spent over $355 million on local and regional food purchases alone in the 2011-2012 school year.
Market News is now gathering price data on grass-fed beef to provide producers with accurate pricing information from the industry. Market News will also soon begin collecting data on local food pricing and volume, which will be helpful to small and mid-sized producers in that market.
Market News provides manufacturers with real-time pricing, volume, supply, and demand information to help them make production and marketing decisions. Access to accurate, reliable market information levels the playing field for all producers in the marketplace.
CSAs, on-farm stores, and food hubs will be included in the USDA National Farmers Market Directory. This data will assist small and medium-sized producers in identifying new market prospects. This spring, the USDA will begin collecting data to update the directory for the 2014 season. Every year, almost 2 million people visit the USDA National Farmers Market Directory.
Water and land management strategies are critical components of any farm enterprise. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) collaborates with farmers and ranchers of all sizes to create land and water management plans.
Furthermore, the NRCS's Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative lengthen the growing season and economic prospects for small and mid-sized farmers while simultaneously supporting conservation. The cost-sharing initiative for high tunnels, commonly known as hoop houses, began as a pilot project in 2010. Since then, the NRCS has contracted for nearly 10,000 high tunnels.
The USDA has started five pilot initiatives to assist small and mid-sized farmers in achieving Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) accreditation. GAP accreditation demonstrates that farmers have met the food safety criteria demanded by many retail purchasers.
Small and mid-sized producers will share the costs and fees involved with the certification procedure as a group under these pilot initiatives. Small and mid-sized producer groups in Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, Pennsylvania, and Missouri collaborate to establish group GAP activities.
Outreach and Educational Resources
USDA has developed a Learning Guide Series to assist small and mid-sized producers in navigating USDA resources. The first in this series will be aimed at small and medium-sized livestock and poultry producers.
Later this year, additional learning guides will be available on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website. USDA field workers and Strike Force teams will expand their outreach to small and mid-sized growers using the Learning Guides.
Furthermore, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has launched Small Scale Solutions for Your Farm, a series of educational resources aimed at both small livestock and fruit and vegetable producers, ranging from simple management activities like cover crop planting to complex structural practices like animal waste management systems or innovative irrigation devices.
Additional Resources & Assistance
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program awards grants to organizations that train, educate, and provide outreach and technical assistance to new and beginning farmers in production, marketing, business management, legal strategies, and other topics critical to running a successful operation.
The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on building models to aid small farmers in making decisions on management methods, new technologies, sustainability, and competitiveness and viability.
Farmers and ranchers can benefit from Value-Added Producer Grants by developing new products, creating and expanding marketing options, and improving producer income. Priority is given to small and medium-sized family farms, beginning and underserved farmers, and veterans.