More federal aid may be coming for Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching what it calls “a concerted effort” to help small and mid-sized farms.
The announcement from U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack comes after a recent census pointed to a reduction in the number of smaller farming operations nationwide.
Speaking this week at the National Farmers Union Convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Vilsack said his department is working to assist these farmers in finding wider markets for their products.
“We’re going to broaden the national farmers’ market directory to include community-supported agriculture activities, on-farm stores and food hubs,” Vilsack said. “This will provide an opportunity for you, as a producer, to know precisely what opportunities exist within your region.”
In addition, he says the USDA plans to expand the popular Farm-to-School Program where growers sell fresh fruits and veggies to nearby schools for use in their cafeterias.
“We know there’s a tremendous demand in schools for locally produced product, we had more than $355-million in sales last year…we anticipate and expect that this is only going to grow,” Vilsack said.
An additional seven Farm-to-School coordinators will be placed across the country to help forge relationships between farmers and school districts, according to Vilsack.
He says the USDA will also work to make it easier for small and mid-sized farmers to gain access to capital by expanding loan programs and increasing funding for such things as hoop houses, which enable longer growing seasons.