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What Beginning Farmers Want From the USDA

Beginning farmers say some of their biggest headaches are USDA paperwork and uncooperative staff at their local USDA office, according to a survey. “These challenges are solvable,” said the National Young Farmers Coalition, which recommends USDA train some of the county office staff in dealing with new farmers and also asks USDA to “go small” in fitting its programs to the needs of young farmers, who usually have small operations.

“Create a ‘micro’ version of every USDA program possible,” says the coalition in its farm bill platform. “The success of FSA’s (Farm Service Agency) micro-loan program offers a valuable lesson: Reaching young farmers doesn’t always require creating new programs but scaling down existing ones. Some of the biggest barriers revealed in our survey – unfamiliarity, burdensome paperwork, not enough time to apply – are also the most solvable. USDA should continue exploring ways to streamline applications, reduce paperwork, and adjust oversight requirements to be scale-appropriate for beginning farmers…”

The top issue in the coalition’s 12-page farm bill platform was delivery of USDA programs. Forty percent of respondents said applications and paperwork were too burdensome, 30 percent said they were unfamiliar with USDA programs and 28 percent said the local staff was too difficult to work with. Beyond training local staff in USDA programs for beginning farmers, the coalition recommended that USDA make loan applications and loan servicing available via the internet, and that USDA create a system to pre-qualify young farmers for real estate loans so they can move quickly when land becomes available. Land access was second on the coalition’s list of recommendations.

To read the farm bill platform, click here.

For a coalition statement about the survey and a link to its report, click here.

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