USDA will publish volume data, supporting, small and mid-size farmsAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will begin collecting and publishing information on price and volume data on food that is sold within the locality and region in which it is produced as one of a series of efforts to expand support for small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers.
By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek
SANTA FE, N.M. — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will begin collecting and publishing information on price and volume data on food that is sold within the locality and region in which it is produced as one of a series of efforts to expand support for small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers.
“This is potentially a multibillion dollar market opportunity,” Vilsack said.
He also announced that USDA will expand its farm storage and loan facility program that is now used mostly for financing the construction of grain bins to cold storage and wash and pack stations for fruit and vegetable producers.
And Vilsack noted that USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has hired seven farm-to-school coordinators who will be located in FNS regional offices to help school officials figure out how to buy food from local farmers.
USDA maintains its commitment to support commercial-scale farmers, but “we don’t deem a smaller operator to be less important than a large operator,” Vilsack said in a wide-ranging speech.
The new and expanded initiative to connect small and mid-sized producers with USDA resources, he said, is a result of the Census of Agriculture data showing that despite the recent good years in agriculture, the number of mid-sized farms has still been decreasing. Vilsack has repeatedly expressed concerns about population decline in rural America and its impact on local institutions.
The announcement won immediate praise from National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson and National Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture policy director Ferd Hoefner, who participated with Vilsack in a call to reporters.
Johnson noted that Farmers Union’s membership has traditionally been smaller and mid-sized producers and was organized because markets were not competitive for small producers.
The fastest growing segment of NFU’s membership, he said, is farmers and ranchers who sell directly to consumers, people involved in Community Supported Agriculture groups and others who are selling to urban people who want to know who produced their food and how it was produced.
Hoefner praised the broadening of the farm storage loans to the packing and storage sheds and also pointed to the Risk Management Agency’s development of a whole revenue insurance policy.
Vilsack said the expanded price, volume and supply information for locally produced and sold foods will be published by the Agriculture Marketing Service’s Market News, and the National Agricultural Statistics Service will also be involved.
Vilsack noted that USDA will also continue attempts to level the playing field for small meat producers.
NFU and others fought back attempts to include a provision in the new farm bill that would prevent USDA’s Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyard Administration from implementing provisions in the 2008 farm bill that were intended to help small producers deal with meat buyers, but Vilsack noted that Congress has also used the appropriations process to make it impossible to implement those provisions.
“Congress says we can’t use GIPSA,” Vilsack said, “but we are a comprehensive department, we have lots of tools.” He also announced that USDA would start a website to provide more information to small producers to access credit and how to promote their pro-cuts and deal with food safety rules.
Five percent of funding under the USDA business and industry loan program will be set aside for creating the food hubs that local producers can use to create a critical mass of product to sell.