Hoping to bolster support for small-to-mid size farm operations and to encourage first time farmers, USDA officials have released a second package of assistance programs that include research awards, technical assistance, and marketing support designed to aid farm operations suffering from drought and disaster.
USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden told Farm Press in an interview this week that the package represents USDA's continued commitment to all producers, including the nation's small and mid-size producers. Harden helps lead the department, working to strengthen the American agricultural economy and revitalize rural communities.
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"We're very excited about this package, which represents the second wave of programs designed to help small and mid-size producers. The package is divided into three specific areas, one which will be grant funding for ten universities to develop programs that will help small and mid-size farmers to enhance and expand their production," Harden noted.
These grant awards, made by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Small and Medium-Sized Farms program, will focus on developing models to assist small farmers in their decision making with respect to management strategies, new technologies, sustainability, competitiveness and viability.
Harden said the awards prioritize strategies enhancing access to markets, developing local and regional food systems, assessing the impact of economic changes to new and beginning farmers, and conducting outreach activities that can inform relevant public policy to enhance small farmers' well-being.
The University of Illinois will receive $495,000 to research risk mitigation participation strategies for small and mid-sized producers in the advanced biofuel industry, while Oklahoma State University was awarded $484,000 to research economic development opportunities for small and mid-sized farms in the local and regional food system.
Other university grants included in this package include Clarkson University, which will receive $499,000 to study anaerobic digesters for small farms, and the University of Vermont was awarded $499,662 grant to research how to improve the quality of labor management decisions for small and medium-sized farm operators.
The ten university grants awarded add up to $7 million in assistance that Harden says will directly benefit small to mid-size farm operations.
"Also included in this second round of assistance is $8.8 million in rural development programs. The first $3 million is targeted towards small and socially-disadvantaged producers through a grant program that will provide funds for market research, product improvement, feasibility studies, training and implementation of business plans, and possibly other programs designed to help them," Harden added.
The program is titled the Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant program and applications will be accepted through June 30. More information about how to apply can be found at www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_SSDPG.html.
Next program up
"The next program in the package is the Rural Development Grant Program and is designed to help build the capacity of our rural cooperative development centers," she said.
Harden said $5.8 million has been allocated to fund 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.
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 Agriculture Act of 2014 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.
More information is available at www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_RCDG.html.
"The remaining program in this new package is actually a targeted program for our small and very small producers of grass-fed beef. We are streamlining the application process and will help small producers to become certified, which will help them take advantage of the increased value of their product at the slaughterhouse. This is for producers who have a herd of 49 or less head of cattle," she said.
Harden says the program is tailored to meet the needs of small-scale livestock producers and the growing grass-fed beef industry. It allows 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.
For more information about this program, visit ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/GrassFedSVS.
Harden says more programs of assistance will be forthcoming under the terms of the new farm program and says USDA is working diligently to implement the full farm law as fast as possible.