This past week, USDA announced two big changes coming to your local county office. First, USDA will be hiring five new staff members at the state level to coordinate new farmer programs for the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has pushed USDA to provide specialized expertise for new farmers, and this job description is exactly what we have been asking for. Second, USDA announced that it is expanding it’s Farm Storage Facility Loan program to cover a host of new products including dairy, eggs, meat, poultry, hops, and flowers. NYFC helped USDA expand this program to fruit and vegetable growers, laying the groundwork for this new expansion.
Here’s a little more information about both of these news items:
New Farmer Specialists at USDA
Last year, NYFC met with USDA officials and proposed adding new farmer specialists to their state and local staffs. Our members report that local FSA and Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) staff are not always familiar with the services that work best for new, diversified farmers. We recommended that USDA hire new staff or train existing staff to specialize in serving these new farmers. USDA requested funding for these new staff members from Congress this year, but thus far Congress has not provided that funding.
We are excited to report that USDA found funding in their existing budget to hire five new-farmer specialists. These new state-level specialists will assist new farmers with their applications for USDA programs; train other USDA staff on how to best serve new farmers; and proactively reach out to and connect new farmers. We hope these specialists will serve as a model for similar positions in every state.
Farm Storage Facility Loan Expansion
Farm Storage Facility Loans provide low-interest loans for farmers to build on-farm storage for their products. Historically, this program has been used for grain bins and silos. However in 2014, NYFC successfully teamed up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to advocate for the expansion of this program to cover cold storage and wash-and-pack stations for fruits and vegetables. In addition, using NYFC Board Member and co-founder Ben Shute as a test case, USDA changed the program requirements to better match the reality of diversified production. You can read more about those changes here.
This week, USDA has announced it is expanding this program even further! Now farmers can apply for a loan to build storage for flowers, hops, rye, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, meat and poultry (unprocessed), eggs, and aquaculture. We are excited to see this great program reach even more farmers.