NYFC applauds Farm Service Agency’s New Microloan Program

usda-fsa-logoThe final rule for the Farm Service Agency’s micro-loan program (ML) is now available on the Federal Register. We’ve taken a look and are pleased with the outcome. NYFC has been advocating for credit opportunities for small and beginning farmers for some time. We got policy makers thinking about this in 2011 and then proposed it in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act. NYFC thanks the Farm Service Agency (FSA) for making this important change!

The final rule makes a few changes to the proposed rule released in May 2012 in response to submitted comments by organizations (such as NYFC and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, NSAC), individuals, and FSA employees. Normally a 30-day delay between publication and effective date is applied. But the FSA believes for ML to meet the needs of farmers this season, it is necessary for it to be effective immediately! 

The ML application process operates within the existing Operating Loan (OL) program framework but is simplified to reflect the smaller loan amounts and unique needs of small farmers. The final rule streamlines the application process, modifies security provisions, provides flexibility in meeting the management experience requirement, and updates the apprenticeship option:

1. Farm Assessment Requirements for ML applicants are substantially reduced

The assessment for an OL evaluates farm organization and key staff qualifications, type of farming operation, goals for the farm, adequacy of real estate and chattel property to conduct the farming operation, historical performance, farm operating plan, loan evaluation, supervisory plan, and training plan. The assessment for an ML applicant will be simplified and in the form of a narrative that will address the type of operation, assistance needed, goals of the operation, marketing plan, supervisory plan, financial viability of the plan, and training plan. Note: chattel property: items of movable personal property, such as equipment, livestock, etc.

We are thrilled the FSA is not requiring an itemized cash flow budget for ML applicants. For diverse vegetable growers, developing cash flows for each crop is tedious and not a representative measurement of success. To reduce undue burden, the FSA believes that “For applicants new to FSA who may produce non-traditional crops or with production practices where yield per acre may be less important, other factors, such as the production capacity, the consistency of income and expenses, and the timely harvest and selling of produce, may be more appropriate measurements to use in establishing actual productivity and projected plans.”

Reporting past yields will also not be necessary. Applicants can provide other forms of documentation such as operator’s sales receipts, financial statements, contracts, and tax returns. This benefits beginning farmers especially, who may not have operated a farm in the previous year.

2. ML’s will allow for flexibility in meeting the managerial ability requirement

The proposed rule allowed applicants to meet the managerial eligibility requirement though the traditional means (traditional education and farm management experience) OR experience managing their own farm through a self-directed apprenticeship OR past association with an agriculture related organization.

Comments to the proposed rule appreciated this flexibility but argued applicants should have at least one-full season of on-farm experience, not solely an association with an agricultural organization. The FSA agrees applicants should have at least one-year on farm experience and the final rule, therefore, “adjusts the proposed alternatives to require sufficient prior experience working on a farm or small business management experience combined with participation in a self-directed apprenticeship.”

NYFC recognized confusion between an apprenticeship and mentorship in the proposed rule that persists in the final rule. An apprenticeship generally runs for one season and is essentially farm labor with added training. A mentorship means an established, formal relationship between an individual who receives applied guidance and input from another individual with the skills and knowledge pertinent to the successful operation. Therefore, the FSA should use the term “self-directed mentorship.”

The FSA wants to ensure that applicants who have only had farm labor positions available to them are able to apply for an ML. A self-directed mentorship will allow applicants an alternative way to gain farm management experience for one season (“by seeking, receiving and applying guidance on how to manage their own start-up farm operation.”) Mentors will not be evaluated in the application process, to avoid burden on both applicant and mentor.

3. Manageable Security Requirements

The proposed rule suggested that MLs must be secured by collateral worth at least 100% of the loan amount to prevent barriers to meeting loan security requirements. In the final rules, FSA maintains that a security of 100% should always be sufficient. The requirement for additional security up to 150%, when available, will be limited to MLs for annual operating costs.

In addition, a lien on real estate (the right of the FSA to possess/sell real estate if loan is not repaid) is not required unless the value of farm products (equipment, livestock, other assets) is not at least equal to 100%.

4. Training

NYFC commented that to ensure local field offices serve growers with diversified, organic and direct market farm operations, loan officers should be given special training in new farm business models. FSA maintains that in order to ensure a successful implementation of the program, local offices will be provided training when the program is introduced, and further training will be provided on a periodic basis. We hope this will training will allow state offices to be helpful resources for beginning farmers. We believe it would be tremendously helpful to have a state specialist on Community Supportive Agriculture.

5.  Making sure the ML meets young farmers needs

NYFC and NSAC believe FSA should be required to track and publish information on microloan borrower participation to identify whether this program meets their credit needs. We urge the FSA to collect information on the type of operation, gross sales, years of experience, etc. to determine who is using the program and how to better meet borrowers needs. In response to our comment, the FSA reports that it is implementing changes into the system so that MLs can be evaluated separately from OLs. State offices will also compile the prices and yields of agricultural commodities, data on non-traditional and direct sales, and organic operations and make them available to the Service Center staff. We hope this information will be used to evaluate the ML program to best meet small and beginning farmers’ needs.

Resource Spotlight: USDA’s Organic Literacy Initiative

The USDA recently launched its Organic Literacy Initiative, a program designed to connect organic farmers, ranchers, processors with the Department of Agriculture resources they could use.  Resources go over what the it means to be organic and how certification works, as well as resources for current certified farmers and ranchers.

The matericals include factsheets for producers considering the transition to organic – check out the sheet for farmers here and for ranchers here.  There is also a video to introduce current organic producers to USDA resources – watch it here.

Newer to the idea of organic certification?  The two new training modules – Organic 101, covering the fundamentals of organic agriculture, and Organic 201, covering standards, certification, and enforcement.

Check out the entire initiative directory and let us know what you think.

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USDA launches new microloan program aimed at small and beginning farmers

spot_microloansFrustrated with traditional loans not suited for your diverse, small-scale operation? The USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) released a rule today modifying its Farm Operating Loans (OL) program to include micro-loans. These micro-loans are smaller, require less paperwork, and allow for a longer payment period to better address the needs of small and beginning farmers. The National Young Farmers’ Coalition applauds the FSA for developing a loan program that accommodates the unique credit needs of young and beginning farmers.

FSA’s current Operating Loans program has typically offered larger loans up to $300,000 to cover large farm expenses. The maximum loan limit for the new micro-loan program will be $35,000 and is intended for smaller purchases such as seeds, livestock, small equipment, as well as insurance and other operating costs including family living expenses and building repairs– investments desperately needed to launch a small farm business. Many lending programs only give out sums of $100,000 or more, which can be an overwhelming amount to a new farmer.

The micro-loan program has several features that differ from the Operating Loans program making it more appropriate for small-scale and beginning farmers. It calls for a shorter application process in comparison with the OL program and conventional farm loans. “Paperwork would go down from about 30 pages to seven” the Associated Press reports. And the loan doesn’t have to be repaid for up to seven years. Beginning farmers have struggled in the past to meet farm experience and managerial requirements– the new micro-loan program accepts apprenticeship and mentorship programs, non-farm business experience, and farm labor experience as acceptable alternatives!

Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the program publicly today and said the new loans are an effort by the USDA to expand credit to minority, socially-disadvantaged, and young and beginning farmers and ranchers. The interest rate will be around 4.9 percent, Vilsack says.

The final rule establishing the microloan program will be published in the Jan. 17 issue of the Federal Register. Stay tuned for a more complete analysis of the rule. We believe applications will be accepted as soon as January 18th! Anyone interested in applying should contact his or her local Farm Service Agency office.

Take a Stand in DC to Challenge Monsanto’s Aggression Against Family Farmers

Farmers Against Monsanto, courtesy of fooddemocracynow.org

Farmers Against Monsanto, courtesy of fooddemocracynow.org

If you’re able to be in Washington, DC tomorrow (Thursday, January 10th), please come out to stand in solidarity with the 30 farmers fighting to defend American agriculture.  They will will be appealing their landmark court case challenging Monsanto’s abusive patent infringement lawsuits and could use your support!

The assembly will take place at 10 AM at Lafayette Square (H Street between 15th and 17th Streets, NW).  Read more about the assembly and sign the Principles of Assembly here.

The court case was filed to protect farmers from genetic trespass by Monsanto’s GMO seed, which can contaminate non-GMO crops and then open those farmers up to lawsuits.  In many cases, farmers have been forced to stop growing certain crops so as to avoid genetic comtaminations and lawsuits.  According to Food Democracy Now, “between 1997 and 2010, Monsanto admits to filing 144 lawsuits against America’s family farmers, while settling another 700 out of court for undisclosed amounts.”  This aggression has created an “atmosphere of fear” across the country.

A Brief Overview of OSGATA et al vs Monsanto (courtesy of OSGATA.org):

OSGATA logoOrganic Seed Growers & Trade Association et al. v. Monsanto was filed in federal district court in Manhattan, NY, on March 29, 2011, on behalf of 60 family farmers, seed businesses and agricultural  organizations and challenges Monsanto’s patents on genetically modified seed. Following an oral hearing in January of 2012, Judge Naomi Buchwald sided with Monsanto in honoring their motion to dismiss. On July 5, 2012 the plaintiff group −which has grown to represent over 300,000 individuals and 4,500 farms− filed a brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., asking  the appellate court to reverse the lower court’s decision from February dismissing protective legal action against agricultural giant Monsanto’s patents on genetically engineered seed.

More Information on the Rally and on the Campaign:

www.fooddemocracynow.org
http://www.osgata.org/osgata-et-al-v-monsanto/

For Better or Worse, a Farm Bill – A Quick Wrap-up

At long last, the Farm Bill race of 2012 is over.

The past week has been a flurry of activity in Congress, as the looming fiscal cliff spurred Washington to action.  Despite the public attention on the Farm Bill over the past year, the conclusion to the long drama came not in a fiery showdown but instead slipped – barely noticed – in to the end-of-year fiscal fight.  The bill that passed the House on Tuesday night had tucked into it a nine-month Farm Bill extension that pushed the debate off until later this in 2013.

US HouseThe Fight in Washington

The final fiscal bill vote was 257-167 in the House, with support from a large majority of Democrats and 36% support from Republicans.  The Senate had passed a similar bill in the wee hours of Tuesday morning with a vote of 89-8.  .

A year’s worth of negotiating came crashing together in those final few days as Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow and House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas worked along with their committees to put together a farm bill extension.  However, due to last-minute obstructionism by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, everything from the summer’s bi-partisan compromise – which had passed through the Senate last summer and contained $24 billion in spending cuts – was swept aside with little explanation.  With support from Speaker of the House Boehner and Vice President Biden, the extension bill had little chance of failing.

In the words of chairwoman Stabenow, the extension “reforms nothing, provides no deficit reduction and hurts many areas of our agriculture economy.”

Farm Bill logoThe New Bill

There aren’t a lot of winners in the Farm Bill extension.  Let’s take a few major points from the bill:

Beginning Farmers and Sustainable Agriculture: None of the programs that the National Young Farmers’ Coalition and the sustainable agriculture community pushed for received support in the bill.  This is a huge blow, and came as a surprise, given that even over the weekend there were strong indications that many of these “orphan” programs would receive the same level of support as they did in 2012.  

Instead, all these programs – everything from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) to the National Organic Cost-Share Program to the Value-Added Producer Producer Grant Program (VAGP) – are left with no mandatory funding for 2013.  One effect, for example, is that at present, no new farmers will be able to enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program, designed to assist in improving soil and water conservation.  This “blatantly anti-reform” deal, in the words of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, is a bitter pill for the beginning farmers and the sustainable agriculture community to swallow.

Crop Subsidies: One of the few things that almost everyone could agree on is that the direct payment crop subsidies needed to be reformed.  The stalled Senate and House bills from last summer, for example, eliminated direct subsidies and instead expanded access to crop insurance.  The extension ignored all arguments and continued the program exactly as is, with a one-year price tag of $5 billion.

Dairy Reform: The so-called “dairy cliff” that could have seen milk prices rise to $7 per gallon because of an automatic reversion to a 1949 government price protection system was averted, but not in a way that support the actual dairy producers.  Instead of using the language from the Dairy Security Act that was brought up earlier this year, the bill merely extended the current Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program that stabilizes prices while benefiting milk processors.  In the words of Jerry Kozak, President of the National Milk Producers Federation, the vote “is a devastating blow to the nation’s dairy farmers.”

Food Stamps: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or Food Stamp program, received an unexpected boon – while earlier Senate and House versions directed cuts to the program, the extension kept the program exactly as is.  

Moving Forward

It’s important to remember that there is a silver lining.  The bill that was rolled into the fiscal cliff resolution is not the normal five-year bill.  It is only an extension – pushing the deadline to September 30, 2013 – thus giving Congress the year to work on a real bill.  As the new Congress convenes for the first time this week, an early priority will be working on a real Farm Bill – one that will do better to “work for our farmers and rural communities as well as American taxpayers,” in the words of Chairwoman Stabenow.

The countless farmers and food and farm advocates who fought last year for a fair Farm Bill should not take this news as anything more than a temporary setback.  Indeed, while the Farm Bill fight of 2012 was overshadowed by the most-hyped and highest-expense election season in American history, 2013 – with it’s new slate of politicians – can focus on true reform with fewer distractions.  We in the sustainable agriculture community can continue to gather together, raise our voices, and demand true positive change.  Let’s have this eleventh hour vote be not a defeat, but a call to arms.

On New Years Day, an End to the 2012 Farm Bill Season

Farm Bill logoWell, the Farm Bill race of 2012 is over, although the new bill is only a nine-month extension tacked onto the far larger fiscal cliff bill.

The final vote last night in the house was 257-167, with support from a large majority of Democrats and 36% support from Republicans.  In the end, the landslide of approval for the bill was an aversion to actually going over the fiscal cliff – since Tuesday was a national holiday, today was the deadline for resolution. 

The farm bill passed easily, but only because of its integration with the fiscal cliff debate. Ignoring the voices of countless farmers, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was able to sweep aside the past year’s work by the Senate Agriculture Committee, while in the House the looming fiscal cliff meant that passing any bill was better than passing a good one.

Overall, we are incredibly disappointed with this result.  The loss of mandatory funding for so many essential programs – as well as no reform on subsidies and a milk reform that favors big distributors over producers – is quite a blow.

There is a silver lining, however.  The bill that was rolled into the fiscal cliff resolution is not the normal five-year bill.  It is only an extension, giving the new Congress the year to work on a real bill.  Just when you thought it had to be over, it gets stretched out again!  

Yesterday’s vote shows us that this is an incredibly important time to be keeping tabs on what’s going on in DC and to be pushing for true reform.  We are excited by the prospects of the new year ahead, and the amazing work that we can all do together to further the mission of the beginning farmer and sustainable agriculture movement!

A Sharp Twist in Farm Bill 2012/2013

The great Farm Bill saga of 2012/2013 took a major turn for the worse last night as the Senate passed a new Farm Bill extension.

US Senate in sessionIn a rapid about-face, the Senate passed a nine-month Farm Bill extension that continues prominently wasteful policies from the last bill and ignores a slew of conservation and beginning farmer programs.

At 1 AM last night, the Senate approved the Farm Bill extension as a part of the larger fiscal cliff bill by a vote of 89-8, and the House is expected to vote on the bill later today.  This bill, which side-steps the work that Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow and House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas have been doing, is in lieu of the House Farm Bill extension that NYFC reported on yesterday.

The gist of this bill is this:  

  • The direct payment subsidies for commodity production that both the House and Senate agriculture committees had earlier agreed were in need of reform are instead continued exactly as is.  For another full year they are locked in at a price tag of $5 billion.
  • All of the targeted programs that focus on beginning farmers and sustainable agriculture – everything from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) to the National Organic Cost-Share Program to the Value-Added Producer Producer Grant Program (VAGP) are completely left out.
  • Other crucial reforms were also shut out – disaster aid is completely excluded (despite the fact that 2012 saw the worst drought in 50 years), and the dairy crisis that has been receiving a lot of attention in the past few weeks will see only a temporary solution.

There is still some room for improvement before the House votes, but this is certainly a tragic turn for the worse at the last minute.  We will keep you up to date as events progress.

PRESS RELEASE: Young Farmers Win in Proposed Farm Bill Extension

YOUNG FARMERS WIN IN PROPOSED FARM BILL EXTENSION

Key farmer training, cost share and farm business support programs would be extended for one year in House proposal

TIVOLI, NY — The National Young Farmer’s Coalition (NYFC) supports the proposed extension to the 2008 Farm Bill, as filed by the House of Representatives on Saturday. This last minute measure will provide funding for critical farm programs that lost all funding when the Bill expired in October of this year.

“If passed, the proposed House extension package would be a huge relief for the nation’s farmers and consumers,” says Lindsey Lusher Shute, Director of the Coalition. “Congress is standing up for the programs that are strengthening independent farms and local food systems, including beginning farmer training, organic certification cost share, value added processing and farmers market promotion. These support programs can make or break new farm businesses.”

The House introduced the one-year extension of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 over the weekend and is expected to vote on the extension before the end of the year. The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the bill can be found here.

CONTACT: press@youngfarmers.org 

 

Link to release

 

 

New Guide: Learn what FSA loans can do for you

Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA. Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture

Fall Line Farms; cooperative, co-op; Richmond, VA.
Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture

The FSA has just released a clear a concise explanation of its different farm loans and policies in an online publication entitled “Your guide to FSA Farm Loans.” 

The guide is specifically written for those considering assistance for starting, expanding, or purchasing land for a farm or ranch.  While the best thing for you to do is get in touch with an FSA officer who can work through the processes with you, take a look at this document first to decide if FSA loans can work for you and to learn more about what you are looking for.

The FSA offers several basic types of loan programs:

  • Farm Ownership Loans, which help you purchase or enlarge a farm or ranch, construct or improve farm or ranch buildings, pay for soil and water conservation and protection and pay closing costs.
  • Operating Loans, which help you with annual operating expenses and help pay for livestock and equipment purchasing.
  • Emergency Loans, which are for those suffering a qualifying loss caused by natural disasters that damaged the farm or ranch.  These loans can restore or replace property, help with production costs for that year, help with certain family expenses, and refinance certain debts.
  • Conservation Loans, which help complete an approved conservation practice
  • and the Land Contract Guarantee, which provides certain financial guarantees to the seller of a farm or ranch through aland contract sale to a beginning or historically under-served farmer or rancher.

The guide is available to read here. Take a look, and feel free to let us know how it worked out for you!  We are always interested in hearing from beginning farmers on how well these programs help them out -  our goal is to make sure beginning farmers get all the support they need.

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How Important is the Farm Bill? The USDA Responds

As we all know, Congress is working to put together a new Farm Bill to replace the last five-year bill that expired earlier this fall.  A lot of farmers have been up in arms to make sure that the new bill is as good as (or better than!) the old, but a lot of folks too have expressed a lack of concern – after all, how important is the Farm Bill?

USDA logoWell, the USDA just published a call-out for input on the bill (see details at the end of the post) with a good overview of how far-reaching the bill’s effects are.  Most people first think about the economic programs that the bill covers.  But think about this: the Farm Bill isn’t just for farmers.  It covers things like environmental conservation and wildlife rehabilitation programs (that affect everyone who enjoys the great outdoors, not just farmers!).  It covers responses to natural disasters (which we’ve seen a lot of this year).  It covers food safety, research, business assistance, not to mention nutritional assistance.  It is huge!

In the USDA’s own words, “from the rural youth looking to take over the family farm to the urban gardener looking to grow fresh produce on the rooftop of their apartment building; from aspiring beginning farmers to outdoorsmen; from farmers market lovers to grocery store regulars, the Farm Bill is everywhere.”

Got your own opinions on why the Farm Bill is important?  Tweet at @USDA with the hashtag #MyFarmBill and let them know what’s at stake for you without the 2012 Food, Farm and Jobs bill.