Small and midsize producers provide new opportunities for American agriculture across the country. This page provides small and midsize producers valuable resources and program information about access to capital, land management and conservation practices, managing risk, finding local markets, and other educational resources.
USDA has made changes to the Farm Storage Facility Loan (FSFL) Program to help small and mid-sized fruit and vegetable producers access the program for cold storage and related equipment like wash and pack stations. Diversified and smaller fruit and vegetable producers, including CSAs, 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.
Funding for producers under the popular microloan program. USDA launched the Microloan Program to allow beginning, small and mid-sized farmers to access up to $35,000 in loans using a simplified application process. In November 2014, the loan limit expands to $50,000. Since their debut in 2013, USDA has issued more than 8,400 microloans, with seventy percent of these loans going to beginning farmers.
Cost share support is also available for farmers pursuing organic certification. Organic farming can integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Not all small and mid-sized farmers are organic. However, USDA is ready to support those who are interested in the certification process.
USDA is developing tools to help small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers make sound financial decisions as they plan for their future including a whole farm insurance policy that will better meet the needs of highly-diversified producers, particularly small and mid-sized fruit and vegetable growers. Using new tools provided by the Farm Bill, USDA is working to reduce crop insurance costs for beginning farmers and ranchers. And organic producers will benefit from the elimination of a previously-required five percent surcharge on crop insurance premiums.
USDA's Farm to School Program has put seven new Farm to School Coordinators on the ground in regional offices to help build direct relationships between small and mid-sized producers and school districts. One priority area for Farm to School is creating more opportunities for small and mid-sized livestock and poultry producers. Since 2013, USDA has invested nearly $10 million in Farm to School grants that support schools as they purchase from local and regional sources. In the 2011-2012 school year alone, schools spent nearly $355 million on local and regional food purchases.
Market News is now collecting price data on grass-fed beef to arm producers will real pricing information from the sector. Market News will also soon begin collecting data about local food prices and volume, valuable to small and mid-sized producers engaged in that marketplace. Market News provides real time price, volume, supply, and demand information for producers to use in making production and marketing decisions. Access to timely, unbiased market information levels the playing field for all producers participating in the marketplace.
The USDA National Farmers Market Directory will be broadened to include CSAs, on-farm stores and food hubs. This information will help small and mid-sized producers find new market opportunities. USDA will begin collecting data to update the directory for the 2014 season this spring. The USDA National Farmers Market Directory receives over 2 million hits annually.
Sound water and land management plans are an important part of any farm operation. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is working with farmers and ranchers of all sizes to develop land and water management plans.
In addition, NRCS's Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative continues to extend the growing season and revenue opportunities while also promoting conservation for small and mid-sized farmers. The cost share program for high tunnels, also called hoop houses, started as a pilot in 2010. Since then, over 10,000 high tunnels have been contracted through NRCS.
USDA has 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.
Educational Resources and Outreach
USDA has created a Learning Guide Series for small and mid-sized producers to help them navigate available USDA resources. 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 and will be available on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website. USDA field staff and StrikeForce teams will increase outreach to small and mid-sized producers using the Learning Guides.
In addition, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) has launched Small Scale Solutions for Your Farm, a series of educational resources designed for both small livestock and fruit and vegetable producers, including tips on simple management activities such as planting cover crops to complex structural practices such as animal waste management systems or innovative irrigation devices.
Start2farm.gov also serves as a one stop shop for beginning farmers and ranchers to learn about how to get started. While not all small and midsize producers are new or beginning, many do start out small.
Additional Resources and Support
The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program 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 National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) focuses on developing models to assist small farmers in their decision making with respect to management strategies, new technologies, sustainability, and competitiveness and viability.
Value Added Producer Grants can help farmers and ranchers develop new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increasing producer income. Priority is available for small and mid-sized family farms, beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers, and veterans.
The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (previously known as the Farmers Market Promotion Program) supports development and marketing activities for farmers markets, food hubs, roadside stands, agri-tourism activities and other producer to consumer markets. This support can help small and mid-sized farmers access markets.
Local and regional food systems can be a profitable sector for small and mid-sized farmers. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative coordinates USDA's work in local and regional food systems and is a centralized resource for learning about USDA opportunities in this industry.
Small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers working in rural areas with high persistent poverty often need extra support. USDA's StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity provides support to grow economies, increase investments and create opportunities in persistent-poverty areas. Small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers in the twenty states where USDA StrikeForce teams are in place can utilize these resources.
The Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant program (SDGG) provides technical assistance to small, socially-disadvantaged agricultural producers through eligible cooperatives and cooperative development centers. Awardees will be able to conduct market research, product and/or service improvement, feasibility studies, training, and implement business plans.
The Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program (RCDG) supports Rural Cooperative Development Centers, which in turn, provide technical assistance to individuals and entities improving the economic condition of rural areas by supporting start-up, expansion or operational improvement of rural cooperatives and other business entities. Cooperatives have often been the mechanism used by small and midsized producers to work together to access new markets or market value added products. In 2013, business and cooperative funding through Rural Development helped 17,773 rural businesses, including 4,200 farmers and 4,472 small businesses. These investments created or saved over 41,600 jobs. Under the 2014 Farm Bill USDA will be creating an Interagency Working Group to improve coordination of programs and services between federal agencies and national and local cooperatives through the RCDG program.
USDA Certification for Small and Very Small Producers of grass-fed beef, administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is tailored to meet the needs of small-scale livestock producers and the growing grass-fed beef industry. It allows small and very small-scale producers to certify that their animals meet the requirements of the grass-fed marketing claim standard, helping them differentiate themselves and communicate value to their customers. As part of USDA-wide efforts to create more opportunities for small-scale livestock producers, AMS is targeting producers that market 49 cattle or less each year by designing a less costly application process for these producers to use the USDA Certified Grass-Fed claim.