If wading through abundant and often confusing programs and complicated provisions of the new farm law is difficult for seasoned farmers, imagine the difficulty for new and mid-size farmers who must navigate through the many pages of documentation necessary to understand what programs and assistance are available to them.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has published an online guide, the Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs, that promises to be a valuable tool to help small and mid-size farmers cycle through the many programs and opportunities available through the Agricultural Act of 2014.
The online guide is designed to help new farmers walk through the dozens of federal programs and policies most important to sustainable agriculture and explains how they can be used by farmers and ranchers nationwide.
The guide is designed to help small and mid-size producers take advantage of the same types of assistance as larger and more commercial farming and ranching operations. The guide outlines available programs and offers information about program basics, eligibility information, success stories, how to apply, program resources, and program history. A Quick Reference Chart also includes a column noting which programs are available for farmers, ranchers, and landowners and which are available for nonprofits or other intermediary organizations.
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In addition to programs and grants, the online guide helps educate new farmers to the need for better conservation measures that are more sustainable.
With the support of innovative farm bill conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), farmers and ranchers are rewarded for adopting comprehensive conservation systems. Other programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provide a way for the public to share in the cost of getting basic conservation practices on the land.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program protects farmland and natural resources through long-term easements. These conservation programs offer tools and resources to help protect both land and water.
The guide is designed to help producers tap into $57 billion set aside for conservation over the next decade, the nation’s largest investment in conservation to date. Additional conservation programs include conservation loans, stewardship programs, environmental incentives programs, and more.
Perhaps of greatest value in the online guide, farmers can tap into farm bill resources, including finding capital to sustain or expand production and methods to acquire an adequate and fair farm safety net. According to the guide, regardless whether you are growing thousands of acres of corn, a few vegetable crops for local distribution, or mixed grains and livestock on a diversified farm, an adequate safety net can make a difference in surviving the challenges of modern farming.
The guide offers information about microloans, revenue protection, risk management, organic crop insurance, direct and guaranteed farm loans, conservation loans and more.
Another aspect of coverage involves rural development. Small-scale entrepreneurship is the one economic development strategy that consistently works in rural communities according to NSAC. Over half of all new jobs created in the most rural areas come from small, non-farm business ventures. The 2014 farm bill guarantees continued investments in rural America, including $63 million for the Value Added Producer Grant Program and $15 million for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program.
A section of the guide provides an overview of the key federal programs focused on rural economic development, including programs for small businesses supporting locally and regionally produced foods.
The guide also provides information about food safety, how to acquire food safety training, and how to develop standards that ensure food safety in farming operations. The 2014 farm bill and other bills – like the annual appropriations bills that set the federal discretionary budget or the Food Safety Modernization Act – include key programs and policies that support and encourage food safety practices on farms.
The guide shows how small and mid-size farmers can develop innovative renewable energy projects on their land. Energy saving measures and energy production facilities that use wind, solar, biomass, and other renewable resources can decrease energy costs and provide additional income for farmers, ranchers and rural businesses.
NSAC published the online guide last week and it is currently available for review and use at http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/grassrootsguide/ .