From the Desk of Lynn Woolf: March 25, 2014
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently described small to mid-sized farmers, including those selling direct to consumers, as the fastest growing segment of agriculture. That’s good news for rural lifestyle dealers. What’s even better news is that USDA has announced millions of dollars in new or enhanced programs to help these farmers grow.
“We’ve adjusted policies, strengthened programs and intensified outreach to meet the needs of small and mid-sized producers. These producers are critical to our country’s agricultural and economic future,” said Vilsack when he announced the programs in early March at the annual convention of the National Farmers Union.
The programs fall into these categories: access to capital, risk management, locating market opportunities, food safety and educational resources.
One program in particular could have a direct impact on rural lifestyle dealers: funding for producers under the microloan program. This program, which launched just last year, allows beginning, small and mid-sized farmers to access up to $35,000 in loans.
Purchasing farm equipment qualifies for the loan, so make sure your small producers know about this — and your salespeople, too.
Another program, the farm storage facility loan program, could have an indirect impact. This provides low-interest financing so producers can build or upgrade permanent facilities to store commodities. Recent changes allow fruit and vegetable producers to access the program for cold storage and related equipment like wash and pack stations. Upgraded facilities could mean increased production — and maybe new equipment requirements.
The Farm Bill also provides increased funding for existing programs, such as grants to beginning farmers and grants for local and regional food systems.
I spoke with Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, regarding his view on the segment. “The fastest growing segment of the National Farmers Union is precisely this segment, those who direct market to consumers and those closest to the larger urban areas,” he says.
A word of caution, though: Johnson says a good share of these smaller farmers are making do with older tractors or are small enough that they don’t need tractors at all.
Good words of advice. However, even if these farmers are growing produce in a greenhouse, I bet they are still willing to invest in equipment to make their properties look attractive.
An underlying trend is another advantage for you. The term “farmer” no longer applies only to those with larger acreages. Acknowledge the economic impact of this segment of producers and guard against language that refers to their operation only as a hobby. Help their operation get the funding it needs to grow and you both can benefit.