Tuesday, January 22, 2013

USDA heeds the call—one year later on farm credit

AliciaIt looks like persistent knocking on the doors of our federal government is finally paying some dividends for family farmers.

This week, USDA’s Farm Service Agency announced a new program to provide micro-loans of up to $35,000 to small, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. The program aims to help producers cover start-up expenses and annual operating expenses, costs for which they generally have great difficulty finding loans.

It’s sweet, sweet music to our ears here at Farm Aid, but it didn’t come without a bit of sweat on our part.

Faithful blog readers may remember our trips to the White House and USDA throughout 2011, when we partnered with the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI-USA), Food & Water Watch and the National Family Farm Coalition to set the record straight on farm credit.

Farmers of all types need adequate and timely credit to maintain a robust farm business. But in the wake of the nation’s economic crisis, family farmers faced more barriers to securing credit when they needed it most. Certified organic growers and entrepreneurial small and mid-sized farmers have more specific barriers to obtaining credit and risk management tools. We heard increasingly from these farmers on our 1-800-FARM-AID hotline, indicating tough times in farm country.

In March 2011, we released Don’t Bank On It to highlight growing demand for farm credit and tightening credit markets nationwide. We attended several meetings with USDA and White House officials during the spring and summer, as well as the White House Rural Economic Forum in Peosta, Iowa, in August to highlight our findings about the real experiences of farmers and the need for adequate funding to federal farm lending programs.

We’re happy to see it’s finally shifting something at the USDA, though we still have a long way to go. Strong, family farm agriculture and more local and regional food systems are the keys to economic development.

To read more about USDA’s new micro-loan program, check out our Resource Spotlight post here. And be sure to “like” our Farmer Resource Network’s Resource Spotlight page on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at @FRNSpotlight to stay updated about new opportunities and resources for family farmers.

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