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USDA initiative to bolster small, mid-sized farms

Tim Hearden
The USDA has announced a sweeping range of initiatives to help the small and mid-sized farmer after the preliminary Census of Agriculture showed declines in all farms except those with 1,000 acres of more.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will redouble its efforts to shore up small and mid-sized farms and ranches with a bevy of new and enhanced programs and money, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on March 10.

The agency’s wide range of efforts will include improved access to existing USDA resources as well as additional support for hoop houses and expanded collection of market news information, Vilsack announced.

In addition, the government is also increasing the amount available in a microloan program from $35,000 to $50,000 and making changes to a farm storage facility loan program that fledgling producers rely on for cold storage, bins and barns, the secretary said.

“Obviously there were concerns following the publication of the Census of Agriculture about the eroding middle in farming,” Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters. He noted that the census shows a “tremendous growth potential” for small and mid-sized farms.

The efforts come as the latest Census of Agriculture shows declines in the number of all farms except those with 1,000 acres of more. The number of farms earning less than $250,000 a year declined from 2007, while those earning more increased, according to a preliminary summary of the census released last month.

Vilsack made his comments to the media after outlining the efforts in a speech to a National Farmers Union convention in Santa Fe, N.M. His initiative was well received at the convention, NFU president Roger Johnson said.

“This focus on small and mid-sized farmers is in many ways a focus on our members,” Johnson said. “Our members historically have largely been from this segment of farming and ranching operations.”

The USDA’s sweeping effort on behalf of small and mid-sized operations will include various measures to improve farmers’ access to capital, additional risk management tools, more help in finding market opportunities and additional training for farmers to achieve best-practices certification so they can comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act, Vilsack said.

The recently approved farm bill also provides resources for small and mid-sized farms, including $100 million for a beginning farmer program, $63 million in value-added producer grants and $30 million to promote farmers markets and local food, the agency explained in a news release.

In addition, President Barack Obama’s proposed budget would provide nearly $50 million in resources for small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers, including an additional $11 million for the value-added grants program, according to the agency.

Online

U.S. Department of Agriculture: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome



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