We congratulate you on your nomination and confirmation as Secretary of Agriculture. We write to you emphasizing United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs that support economic growth and environmental health in rural communities. We hope you recognize these opportunities to impact rural communities.
Agriculture can have a big impact on water quality. Many farmers and ranchers concerned about soil and water health turn to conservation practices to do their part in stewarding natural resources. USDA administers several programs that support conservation on working lands, including the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program.
Many farmers rely on crop insurance to buffer the impact of bad years, and we hope you will continue to support an effective and targeted safety net for farmers and ranchers.
Beginning farmers and ranchers
Our rural communities shrink and suffer when small and mid-size farmers consolidate or leave their farms. Many beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers start out with smaller operations. Supporting these rural entrepreneurs is a way to energize the economies of rural communities.
We ask you to lift up and support programs that benefit beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Value-added Producer Grants
Through the Value-added Producer Grant Program, USDA gives grants to farmers to create or develop value-added and producer-owned businesses. Many farmers and ranchers can no longer make a living on the same number of acres that supported past generations. Diversifying income and entering into value-added enterprises can be a smart economic decision for some producers.
With this program, USDA can help out rural communities by keeping more farmers and ranchers in business.
Outreach and assistance
One of USDA’s legacies is serving black, Native American, women, and Hispanic farmers. Outreach and Assistance for Socially-disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program is one of the few USDA policies that was intended to provide programming exclusively to these populations. Congress renewed this program in the last Farm Bill, expanding the scope to include veterans. However, they also cut funding in half. We urge you to support and highlight this important work.
Small rural businesses
USDA administers the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program that allows organizations (including the Center for Rural Affairs) to give loans and technical assistance to small rural businesses. While agriculture is one driver of rural economies, small businesses are often the glue that ties a rural community together.
This program helps create jobs in rural communities and supports rural entrepreneurs who would otherwise lack access to the capital and information they need to be successful.
Note: Sonny Perdue was confirmed by Congress on April 24 to serve as the Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA.
Feature photo: Stephanie Bertognoli could benefit from a USDA program intended to provide outreach and assistance to women farmers. She raises hogs and bees and is starting an orchard. | Photo by Rhea Landholm
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