FACT’s Fund-a-Farmer now accepting grant applications

Courtesy of the Missouri Beginning Farmer Blog, the Food Animal Concerns Trust Fund-A-Farmer project is now accepting applications for projects that will improve the welfare of animals on a farmer’s operation.

FACT funds three types of projects to help: (1) transition to pasture-based systems; (2) improve marketing of humanely-produced products; or (3)  more generally enrich the conditions in which the operation’s farm animals are raised.

Working independent family farms that raise pigs, broiler chickens, laying hens, dairy cows, and/or beef cattle are eligible to apply for any of the three grant types listed above.  Those operations that raise goats and sheep are eligible only for marketing grants.

The grants will be up to $2,500 and awarded to at least 15 farmers.  Applications are due May 1, 2014 and grants will be awarded in August, 2014.  If you have questions, FACT has provided the grant guidelines here.  You may also sign up for a webinar to discuss the grant application process.

Where are we with the Farm Bill?

This blog doesn’t pretend to be a policy analysis blog but the Farm Bill negotiations and status are important to its audience.  But this much we do know: the conference committee announced a deal for a new five-year Farm Bill and the House of Representatives will vote on Wednesday.  As of this writing, it is not clear when the Senate will vote.  The following links, in no particular order, delve into the proposed new Farm Bill:

  • Per DTN, the bill eliminates direct payments and the average crop revenue election program.  Additionally, “farmers will make a one-time decision to enroll in a revenue program known as Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or a target price program called Price Loss Coverage (PLC).”  More information is at the link about the ARC and PLC programs.
  • The New York Times also has a write-up concerning the legislation.  The Times indicates the bill will provide for a new milk insurance subsidy program and place a cap on farm subsidy payments.  The Times also reports that some savings from eliminating direct payments will go towards crop insurance.
  • If you want a comprehensive run-down, FarmPolicy.com is your go-to source.
  • This Reuters article looks at the numbers — total cost, total savings, number of individuals employed in agriculture.
  • The American Soybean Association supports the bill as does the American Farm Bureau.

New Program to expand SNAP benefits for farmers markets and direct marketers

To continue the theme of discussing small/niche farmers, most of those in the know are aware that SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) can be accepted at farmers markets.  The wrinkle?  The farmers market needed to find the appropriate equipment to connect wirelessly (which also meant a wireless plan), find and work with an approved USDA payment processor and understand various rates and rules of the processor.

But the last sentence is written in the past tense because the USDA has announced MarketLink, a new, one stop shop for direct marketing farmers and farmers markets to become authorized to accept SNAP benefits and acquire the equipment needed.  MarketLink also has an eligibility assessment to determine if you and/or the farmers market qualifies for free equipment.  MarketLink also includes information on how the program works and training presentations for farmers.

Is the program worth it?  This article indicates it is worth a serious look.  Not only have the number of farmers markets steadily grown with 8,000 in August 2013, SNAP redemption have almost doubled from 2011 to 2013.  In 2013 alone, SNAP accounted for $20.4 million in sales at farmers markets.

With spring approaching, it may be worth a few minutes of your time to determine if MarketLink is a good program for you.  It may just fit into your operation seamlessly and provide another consumer outlet.

Land access for small farmers

This interview with Temple Grandin on her thoughts on the future of small farms is very intriguing.  Land access is certainly a pressing concern for small farmers, as well as beginning farmers.  It got me thinking about various methods of obtaining land access for small farmers.  What are some ideas for obtaining land access, especially if you need or want access to a population center:

  • Ownership of land

This is the obvious, albeit for many people the most difficult solution to obtaining land access.  But not all is lost.  It takes persistence, networking, and workable finances, but it is possible to purchase land.  There are many programs available from both the Farm Service Agency and individual states (for example, aggie bonds) to assist with land purchases.  Additionally, small farmers have a built-in advantage: they don’t need or require enormous tracts of land.  So, keep an eye out for smaller tracts of land that may be a bit off the beaten path.  Talk to anyone who will listen (or at least won’t walk away!) that you are looking for land to purchase.  Look for land that, while it may not be perfect, will nonetheless fit your needs.

  • Lease of land

As I’ve written here before, I think leases are an option if properly considered.  A lease, especially if you are a new small farmer, provides an opportunity to test your business plan, your marketing and product, and whether this is a career you can and want to pursue.  Leases also provide an opportunity to develop a relationship with a landowner who may be willing to sell land and/or provide references to others in the community about your operation and need for land.  Also, keep in mind that the State of Nebraska has a program in place when leases are signed: the Nebraska Beginning Farmer Tax Credit.  Keep in mind the tax credit requires a lease of ten or more acres.

  • Urban lots

Urban lots may be exactly what your small farm needs.  You would be in the population center, would likely have direct contact with consumers, and may have more housing options available.  But there are issues unique to urban areas.  First, you need to know the zoning regulations and the zoning of the particular lot you may use for your operation.  You may also have to consider whether homeowner covenants are in place.  Some covenants prevent gardens, commercial activities, and/or require a house to be built on the lot within a certain period of time.  An urban lot is also best for vegetable, fruit, or similar operation; animals will very likely not work due to municipal ordinances barring farm animals in city limits.

In the end, access to land is a difficult but not necessarily insurmountable problem, especially for small farmers.  So don’t give up on making your business plans, networking with others, participating an apprenticeships and internships, and generally following your dream.  And if following your dream requires a bit of help, you are always welcome to contact us.

Interested in cover crops and soil health?

If so, and you are unable to attend the National Conference on Cover Crops and Soil Health in Omaha, Nebraska on February 18th, you can nonetheless participate in the conference by attending a free, live broadcast of the opening sessions of the conference in a number of locations throughout the country.

More information on the conference can be found here.  The live broadcast locations can be found here; for most states, there are multiple locations.  This is a great opportunity to learn if you are interested in cover crops and/or soil health.

Conservation Stewardship Program sign-up extended

The Conservation Stewardship Program is extending the sign-up period to February 7, 2014.  But for many, the question remains: what is the Conservation Stewardship Program?

The Program, or CSP, is run by the National Resource Conservation Service.  CSP is a voluntary program that encourages resource conservation via: (1) undertaking additional conservation activities, and (2) improving or maintaining existing conservation activities.  Unlike some programs, CSP is available to a producer regardless of the size of the operation or crops produced.

Eligible lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest land, and agricultural land under the jurisdiction of an Indian tribe.

Additionally, the higher the conservation performance, the higher the payment for participation in CSP.  There may be more than one CSP contract at any given time.  However, payments are capped at $40,000 in any year and not more than $200,000 in any five year period.  Those receiving payments may be individuals, legal entities (e.g. S-Corp, LLC etc.), joint operations, or Indian tribes.  The contract limit (the amount paid for a contract) is the same as the payment limit above, except joint operations which have an $80,000 per year contract limit and $400,000 over the term of the contract period.

Payment comes in two forms: the first, an annual payment for instituting or maintaining a conservation practice.  The second is a supplemental payment for instituting a a resourcing conserving crop rotation.

More information can be found on this Fact Sheet about CSP from NRCS.  If you are curious about whether CSP is a program that may work in your operation, this checklist is a good resource.  We’re also here to answer any questions you may have so feel free to contact us!


A new USDA resource for organic farmers

Ever tried to navigate the USDA’s various websites for information on organic production, insurance products for organics, or just what kind of markets are available?  Well, look no more.  The USDA has recently unveiled a new one stop shop for all information it collects and disseminates concerning organic production.

The website truly is a great resource.  Maybe you are curious about organic certification and are beginning the process of determining if it is for your operation.  Then the Agricultural Marketing Service, via a link on the left-hand side of the website, can begin to answer your questions.  Maybe you are wondering whether you can purchase crop insurance for your organic fields?  Just click on the ‘Financial Resources’ link and you can find information on crop insurance, as well as loans, conservation assistance, and marketing assistance.

You can even delve into topics such as importing and exporting organic products.  You can find a wealth of information on importing and exporting various products, required trade forms, and training and enforcement materials with which to educate yourself.  You can even keep up with organic news from the USDA via their Organic 101 blog.

The resources on the USDA’s one stop organic shop are from all the various USDA agencies.  If you need help navigating the website or have questions, you are welcome to contact us!