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USDA Grants Assist Small Farmers Who are Making a Big Impact in Agriculture

By Jennifer Martin, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
April 30, 2014

Small and medium-sized farmers could see help in growing their operation thanks to programs that will be developed at 10 universities that were funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture this week.

Farming and ranching is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Agriculture in the United States is a mixing bowl of diversity, and it’s most evident when comparing large- and small-scale farming operations. Having grown up on a small, family farm in Iowa, I saw first-hand not only how important our small farmers and ranchers are to the nation, but also the challenges they face daily.

There is much variation among small family farms and ranches. No one definition comes close to capturing the richness and diversity of these operations. For example, while many farmers and ranchers are loyal to their traditional production systems, others constantly seek new opportunities and experiment with alternative crops, production methods and innovative marketing approaches. As a result, the United States produces a striking range of food and fiber, from soybeans to sesame, from beef to buffalo.

Yet, with all this variation, there are common challenges they face that many large farms don’t, such as access to capital, acquiring land, opening doors to new markets, learning to manage risk and finding training and mentoring services.

USDA works every day for producers of all sizes. This week, the department announced additional support and resources for America’s small and midsized farmers and ranchers, including an investment in grants from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to support research, education and Extension work at universities across the nation. This announcement is part of USDA’s continued support for America’s small and midsized producers.

The work being undertaken at these 10 universities will develop programs to assist small and medium-sized farmers grow their operations, enhance their production and become economically viable. The grants are part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative and focuses on developing models to assist small farmers in their decision making respect to management strategies, new technologies, sustainability, competitiveness and viability.

A few examples from this year’s funding include a project at the University of Illinois to research risk mitigation strategies for producers in the advanced biofuel industry, while Oklahoma State University is researching economic development opportunities in the local and regional food systems. The University of Vermont is studying how to improve the quality of labor management decisions for small and medium-sized farm operators. A full list of awardees is available on the NIFA website.

Small farmers and ranchers account for nearly 90 percent of all farms in the country. They are helping the United States produce the most affordable, abundant, safe, and healthy food supply in the world. With an impact that huge, we need to ensure that they have access to the resources they need to thrive.

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