USDA steps up for small farmers
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 5:18 AM
On March 10, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced changes to the Farm Storage Facility Loan program that will benefit the growing number of smaller farmers seeking to access opportunities in local and regional food system growth.
For smaller family farmers growing fruits and vegetables, packing and storage sheds are crucial elements of their operations where fresh produce is washed, sorted, graded, labeled, stored and prepared for shipping. Changes to this program will allow diversified fruit and vegetable farmers to qualify for storage facility loans, which will be extended to cover packing and washing sheds as well as product storage.
Although seemingly small in nature, these changes have far-reaching potential impacts. I applaud Secretary Vilsack for working to make sure this USDA program supports smaller, diversified family farms that sell the food they produce through local markets such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture systems, and directly to schools and other local institutions.
The secretary's announcement is clearly intended to build upon the increasing opportunities in direct marketing and local food system growth. Moreover, these programmatic changes signal USDA's recognition that where key investments have been made, numbers of smaller, family farms and beginning farmers and ranchers are increasing alongside opportunities in new, localized markets.
In Nebraska, for example, we have seen how efforts to foster the next generation of family farmers and ranchers have resulted in an increased number of beginners reported in the last Census of Agriculture. A welcome, if not unexpected, new trend.
John Crabtree (email@example.com) is with the Center for Rural Affairs, which was established in 1973 as a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.