The USDA Has Big Plans For Small And Midsized Farms

The COVID-19 pandemic threw the American agricultural industry into chaos at a time when it was already struggling with numerous challenges, including unfavorable weather conditions and export tariffs deemed retaliatory, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The effects were felt particularly intensely by small and mid-sized farm concerns, according to a 2022 study published in the journal, Agricultural Systems. For example, many saw some of their existing markets all but evaporate amid pandemic-related lockdowns, while others faced new demand that they and their existing resources were not equipped to accommodate, according to a May 24, 2021 letter from 50 members of Congress to the Secretary of Agriculture. Some were not even able to apply for federal pandemic-related assistance for the simple reason that they weren't able to pull together the necessary information and paperwork.

These days, more than ever, even small farms must operate as sophisticated businesses, the letter explains. Although many existing farms do not currently, it doesn't have to stay that way. In the hopes of improving supply chain resiliency and addressing the quickly evolving operational needs of small and midsize farms, the letter requested that the sum of at least $300 million in funding – from existing federal COVID-19 response authorities, be earmarked for use in a concerted effort to better equip small and mid-sized farms and farm businesses with the business tools, know-how, and other resources they might need going forward.

On September 7, 2022, the USDA delivered all of that and more.

The USDA has committed $400 million in funding to helping small farms to help themselves

COVID-19 shone a bright light on gaps in the nation's overall preparedness in the event of future protracted national emergencies, according to a September 7 press release from the USDA. That press release announced the government's earmarking of $400 million to provide training and support to small and midsized U.S. farms for the purpose of updating their business models and methods to meet both foreseeable and not-so-foreseeable circumstances and conditions. Initially, efforts will be focused on putting six "Regional Food Business Centers" in place throughout the U.S.

These Regional Food Business Centers will serve as a "critical asset" in the USDA's plans to support small and midsized farms, according to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack. Specifically, the Centers will provide one-on-one assistance for farms and farm businesses that may benefit from the various USDA programs that have been put in place to "build local and regional food systems" (via Farm Progress). The hope is that through the Centers, local and regional farm businesses will have the support, including technical support, they need to compete and succeed in these increasingly complicated times.

The six centers will include one intended to be leveraged by native American farms and farming businesses. Three will serve areas along the U.S. and Mexico border. Two others will serve impoverished Delta and Southeast communities. The other will serve parts of Appalachia. The USDA is now soliciting applications from potential Center leaders.