Beginning Farmers Speak to USDA
The USDA held a listening session this spring for beginning and new farmers to hear how the pandemic has affected them and how state and national programs have helped.
USDA Deputy Under Secretaries with the Farm Production and Conservation, the Ag Marketing Service, and the Farm Service Agency all online and listening to farmers’ comments.
Sophie Ackoff Executive Director with the National Young Farmers Coalition told the representatives that thousands of young and beginning farmers are unaware of the programs the USDA offers to assist during the disruptions and many believe they are not eligible either because their operations are small or too diversified.
Ackoff: “A set aside for beginning farmers and farmers of color in any next iterations of eight I think would send a really clear message that this funding is for beginning farmers and for farmers of color and would help them, you know, with long application windows also being really supportive and then also farmers, being able to apply based on 2020 sales or something even more alternative than that so that these new operations and get in the system as well.”
Ackoff says farmers are also concerned about their farmworkers not having access to COVID relief.
Ivan Minks, an organic beef producer in Georgia told the reps that he was turned down for a renewal of his existing USDA loan for not having a feasible plan. He is still working to appeal that decision but as a third-year producer, it’s been hard.
He says loan officers should be better trained to work with folks like him with unique operations.
Minks: “ I think that’s where the frustration is. It’s in the loan manager piece and getting that approved and that collaboration and talking.”
Other producers cited concerns about the unclear application processes and lack of communication with local FSA offices.