USDA has tools to help producers grow their businesses and build new markets for their products both here at home and abroad. These programs can help producers begin producing value-added products like pickles or jam, export their product overseas, or connect with their neighbors at a local farmers market or school.
Value Added Producer Grants
The Value-Added Producer Grant program can help farmers and ranchers develop new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income through the creation of value-added products.
Seasonal High Tunnels
Seasonal High Tunnels provide revenue opportunities while also promoting conservation for small and mid-sized farmers. They can extend the growing season, allowing more time for local marketing of produce and increasing sustainability while lowering energy and transportation inputs.
Local and Regional Food Systems
USDA has many resources for new farmers who are interested in producing and marketing local food, organized under the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, including:
Tools and resources related to local and regional food systems from USDA and our federal partners.
The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, a guide and map to help you navigate USDA resources for local food systems. Search the map by keyword to find exciting projects that USDA has supported around the country related to your topic of interest, or find farmers markets, food hubs and meat processing facilities near you.
Accessing and Growing Farmers Markets and Other Local Food Opportunities
The USDA National Farmers Market Directory helps producers and consumers find farmers markets. Farmers Market Managers enter data about a market's location, hours, accepted forms of payment, and more.
The new USDA Local Food Directories will help producers and consumers locate additional local food outlets, specifically on-farm markets, CSAs, and food hubs. Managers and owners can now enter business information in the new directories by going to http://www.usdalocalfooddirectories.com. When the directories go live in early 2015, consumers can use them to search for nearby suppliers of local food.
The Farmers Market Promotion Program helps improve and expand domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, agri-tourism activities, and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing opportunities. From starting up mobile markets to helping new farmers and ranchers, these grants create new economic opportunities and encourage consumers to eat healthier.
The Local Food Promotion Program supports the development and expansion of local and regional food business enterprises to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets. There are planning and implementation grants to help support food hubs and other elements of a strong local food system.
Farmers' markets and direct marketing farmers are eligible to apply as retailers to redeem Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from recipients. Becoming authorized to accept SNAP is a win-win for both the farmer and the customer - SNAP recipients get access to healthier and fresher foods, and farmers and markets increase their customer base and their sales. Funding may be available for some markets and direct marketing farmers for the purchase of wireless equipment. To see if you qualify and/or begin the application process, please visit: http://www.marketlink.org
Developing Export Capacity
Exporting can be a valuable tool for new and beginning farmers to build markets for their products, grow and expand their businesses, and diversify revenue streams. USDA, working with and through our partners, can help new and beginning farmers develop export capacity and markets for products abroad. At the industry/commodity and state level, USDA has formed over 70 partnerships with non-profit U.S. agricultural trade associations (USDA Cooperators), which represent most agricultural products. USDA also supports four State Regional Trade Groups (SRTGs). These organizations were created to share the costs of overseas market development, export promotion, market research, consumer promotions, technical assistance, and trade servicing.
The first stop for new farmers and ranchers is "New to Exporting? Start Here." This site links to the Foreign Agriculture Service, its partners, and a variety of resources available to get started. For those ready to enter the world of exporting, USDA has in place key partnerships that will help beginning farmers and ranchers explore export opportunities through activities like trade missions, reverse buyer missions, trade leads and trade shows highlighted on their web sites. These venues are important opportunities to build customer bases for products overseas, exposure for farm and ranch businesses, and exporting networks.
National Organic Program
Organic certification is a valuable resource for small producers and businesses as it can increase producer returns. All USDA programs serve organic producers, and there is a new one-stop shop for all USDA programs and information related to organic agriculture.
Organic certification verifies that a farm or handling facility complies with the organic regulations and allows producers to sell, label, and represent their products as organic.
Specific information on organic regulations, enforcement, international trade and other related topics are all found on the web page for the National Organic Program.
Organic Cost Share Assistance
Organic producers and handlers can be reimbursed for as much as 75 percent of the costs for their organic certification, up to a maximum of $750 annually. Through the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program, $1.5 million is available to organic operations in 16 States. Through the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, $11.5 million is available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories.
Grading, Certification, and Verification
The Agricultural Marketing Service's quality grade standards and its independent third-party, grading, certification, auditing, inspection, and laboratory analysis services are voluntary tools that producers can use to help promote and communicate quality and wholesomeness to consumers. These standards and services can help new farmers be more competitive in the evolving marketplace and access new market opportunities.
For example, the USDA Process Verified Program provides companies that supply agricultural products or services the ability to assure customers that they provide consistent quality products or services by allowing participants to use a "USDA Process Verified" marketing shield that verifies the marketing claims.
AMS grading services cover commodities from eggs to beef to fruits and vegetables. Many consumers are familiar with the "USDA Prime" and "USDA Choice" beef grades and recognize the value that the grade shields represent. Recently, AMS launched a grass-fed beef certification program specifically tailored to meet the needs of small and very small producers.
AMS fruit and vegetable audits for Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices can help producers access commercial markets by verifying that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
AMS even administers export certification and verification programs, which help producers meet foreign buyer requirements and access foreign markets for beef, dairy, eggs, pork, animal feed, and more.
Farm to School
Schools across the country are increasingly interested in buying lunchroom products from local or regional producers, and schools are often a good market for new farmers. Farm to school grants and technical assistance can help link farmers to schools. USDA can help you learn more about selling to local schools, including guidance and technical assistance, as well as results from our Farm to School Census showing what schools are buying now and what they would like to buy in the future.
For new farmers interested in producing a meat, poultry, or egg product, a Federal Grant of Inspection will enable you to sell your product in interstate commerce for resale.
Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)
The Rural Energy for America Program provides grants and loan guarantees for agricultural producers and small businesses in rural areas to purchase, install and construct energy efficiency measures or producing on farm renewable energy such as solar panels.
Randy Hudson inherited a 20-acre pecan orchard and turned it into a business in 1981. He said those 20 acres gave his two sisters and him an opportunity to attend college, so he has an emotional tie to the land and business. His father was a county extension agent. Randy followed in his father's footsteps and parlayed an undergraduate soil science degree into a Ph.D. Then he parlayed the 20 acres into 1,500 and became president of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association. He had education and tradition, but what he didn't have was an expandable market for pecans. Dr. Hudson said they weren't making that much money until he took a chance and began to export his crop. Everything changed in the 1990s when the family introduced the pecan to new consumers in China. Hudson Pecan Company was soon generating revenue of $20 million annually by selling their own pecans and marketing for others.