Today in remarks at the National Farmers Union National Convention in Santa Fe, NM, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new and expanded efforts to connect small- and mid-sized farmers and ranchers with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) resources that can help them build stronger businesses, expand to reach new and larger markets, and grow their operations. Several of those efforts are focused on enhancing food safety.
"The recent Census of Agriculture shows that there is tremendous growth potential for small and mid-sized producers in the American agricultural landscape," said Vilsack. "USDA is taking a hard look at our existing resources to ensure that they work for producers of all sizes. We've adjusted policies, strengthened programs and intensified outreach to meet the needs of small and mid-sized producers. These producers are critical to our country's agricultural and economic future."
Among the new efforts announced by Vilsack today, those related to food safety include:
- Changes to the Farm Storage and Facility Loan (FSFL) Program to help small and midsized fruit and vegetable producers access the program for cold storage and related equipment such as 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Vilsack pointed out that the recently signed 2014 Farm Bill provides USDA with more direct resources to support small and mid-sized farmers, including the 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.
He also noted that USDA's FY2015 Budget, which was released last week, includes $2.5 million to provide food safety training to owners and operators of small farms, small food processors, and small fruit and vegetable vendors affected by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
More information about tools and resources available to small and mid-sized farmers will be rolled out in the coming months, including information about access to capital, risk management, food safety, and locating market opportunities, on USDA's Small and Mid-Sized Farmer Resources webpage.