Recently, I had the honor of representing USDA at the annual Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Land Assistance Fund (FSCLA) annual meeting in Epes, Ala. It gave me a chance to speak with a phenomenal group of hardworking farmers and ranchers, to hear their stories and share some of the improvements that USDA, under the Obama Administration, has put in place to help uproot inequality. Over the past eight years, we’ve taken steps to change the culture of USDA to ensure all Americans who come to us for help are treated fairly, with dignity and respect.
As I stepped to the podium and looked out at a crowd of faces that resembled mine, I thought back to my early childhood growing up on my parent’s farm. I remembered the hardships they endured trying to sustain a life for me and my siblings, and I wished that I could have offered the same information and opportunities to them as I was about to provide to the room full of individuals at the meeting.
The audience of small farmers and ranchers were no different from my parents; they were hardworking people trying to sustain themselves as well as their land and looking for ways to do it. Our mission at the Risk Management Agency (RMA) is to provide resources and educational tools to help farmers and ranchers effectively manage long-term risks and challenges. I stressed to them what I have learned though my years at USDA, and that is to treat your farm as a business, and one way to do that is by making an informed decision to purchase crop insurance and mitigate risk.
I made it my mission to introduce the USDA’s stand on providing crop insurance for beginning farmers of all backgrounds, and risk management solutions that provide a farm safety net that works for them. Conveying the importance of crop insurance and inspiring producers to make educated decisions as far as mitigating their risk is one of the many contributions that I can make for growers who need assistance.
RMA offers various coverage options to organic producers as well as those farmers who have small farms or produce specialty crops. Through efforts such as StrikeForce, we provide support in high-poverty areas in rural America and through policies like Whole-Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) we can offer a great option for small to mid-size farmers and ranchers, especially those growing a diversified set of crops and animals. The WFRP program provides a risk management safety net for all commodities on a farm under one insurance policy. This insurance policy is ideal for the types of farms the audience had; and the kind of safety net option farms with specialty or organic commodities, or those marketing to local, regional, farm-identity preserved, specialty, or direct markets have been asking for. And it is available in every county of every state.
The event marked the FSCLA’s 49th anniversary celebration. A celebration that contributes support toward the federation’s ongoing efforts to promote social and economic equity through cooperative economic development, land retention, and advocacy. It was rewarding to tell the audience how RMA has made efforts to support a diverse farm community, and to ensure the farm safety net we provide works for those across the social and economic spectrum.