Thursday, March 28, 2013

Release No. 0010.13
Office of Communications 202-720-4623
USDA Finalizes New Microloan Program
Microloans up to $35,000 aim to assist small farmers, veterans, and disadvantaged producers
MEMPHIS, Jan. 15, 2013—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a new microloan program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designed to help small and family operations, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers secure loans under $35,000. The new microloan program is aimed at bolstering the progress of producers through their start-up years by providing needed resources and helping to increase equity so that farmers may eventually graduate to commercial credit and expand their operations. The microloan program will also provide a less burdensome, more simplified application process in comparison to traditional farm loans.
"I have met several small and beginning farmers, returning veterans and disadvantaged producers interested in careers in farming who too often must rely on credit cards or personal loans with high interest rates to finance their start-up operations," said Vilsack. "By further expanding access to credit to those just starting to put down roots in farming, USDA continues to help grow a new generation of farmers, while ensuring the strength of an American agriculture sector that drives our economy, creates jobs, and provides the most secure and affordable food supply in the world."
The new microloans, said Vilsack, represent how USDA continues to make year-over-year gains in expanding credit opportunities for minority, socially-disadvantaged and young and beginning farmers and ranchers across the United States. The final rule establishing the microloan program will be published in the Jan. 17 issue of the Federal Register. The interest rate for USDA's new microloan product changes monthly and is currently 1.25 percent.
Administered through USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) Operating Loan Program, the new microloan program offers credit options and solutions to a variety of producers. FSA has a long history of providing agricultural credit to the nation's farmers and ranchers through its Operating Loan Program. In assessing its programs, FSA evaluated the needs of smaller farm operations and any unintended barriers to obtaining financing. For beginning farmers and ranchers, for instance, the new microloan program offers a simplified loan application process. In addition, for those who want to grow niche crops to sell directly to ethnic markets and farmers markets, the microloan program offers a path to obtain financing. For past FSA Rural Youth Loan recipients, the microloan program provides a bridge to successfully transition to larger-scale operations.
Since 2009, USDA has made a record amount of farm loans through FSA—more than 128,000 loans totaling nearly $18 billion. USDA has increased the number of loans to beginning farmers and ranchers from 11,000 loans in 2008 to 15,000 loans in 2011. More than 40 percent of USDA's farm loans now go to beginning farmers. In addition, USDA has increased its lending to socially-disadvantaged producers by nearly 50 percent since 2008.
Producers can apply for a maximum of $35,000 to pay for initial start-up expenses such as hoop houses to extend the growing season, essential tools, irrigation, delivery vehicles, and annual expenses such as seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing, and distribution expenses. As their financing needs increase, applicants can apply for an operating loan up to the maximum amount of $300,000 or obtain financing from a commercial lender under FSA's Guaranteed Loan Program.
USDA farm loans can be used to purchase land, livestock, equipment, feed, seed, and supplies, or be to construct buildings or make farm improvements. Small farmers often rely on credit cards or personal loans, which carry high interest rates and have less flexible payment schedules, to finance their operations. Expanding access to credit, USDA's microloan will provide a simple and flexible loan process for small operations.
Producers interested in applying for a microloan may contact their local Farm Service Agency office.
The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write: USDA, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (866) 632-9992 (Toll-free Customer Service), (800) 877-8339 (Local or Federal relay), (866) 377-8642 (Relay voice users).


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CSA Farmer's Guide to Accepting SNAP/EBT Payments Webinar

Cost: Free



March 21, 2013 at 2PM Eastern Time, 1PM Central, 12PM Mountain, 11AM Pacific Time


About the Webinar 


Trying to figure out how to accept SNAP/EBT payments (formerly food stamps) has been a challenge for trailblazing CSA farmers and their partner organizations because of a general lack of information on the topic. In this webinar, we will demystify the process by explaining how SNAP rules apply to CSA farms, showing you ways to easily integrate SNAP payments, providing tools to find and retain SNAP members, walking you through a hassle-free application to become SNAP-authorized, and describing how to get the technology to accept EBT cards. 


About the Presenter

Bryan Allan is the assistant farm manager at Zenger Farm, a nonprofit educational urban farm in Portland, OR. For the past two years, Zenger Farm has run a pilot SNAP CSA project to learn and now share the tips and tricks that will make the process easy for you!


Bryan Allan

Assistant Farm Manager

Friends of Zenger Farm



Friday, March 1, 2013

Help for New Farmers at Tax Time

National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT)
For Immediate Release
Contact: Rich Myers

Help for New Farmers at Tax Time

New tips sheet points out issues they need to know about Tax time can be daunting for any business, and farming operations bring their own set of challenges—particularly for beginning farmers. A new tip sheet from the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) can take away some of the mystery as April 15 approaches.

“Tips About Farmer Income Tax” stresses the importance of working with a tax professional who is experienced working with farmers. At the same time, it provides a brief overview of some important income-tax issues that farmers need to be aware of:
• Business deductions
• What to file as a capital gain
• When to use IRS Schedule F or IRS Schedule C
• Depreciation • How the IRS defines a “hobby farm”
• Averaging farm income over a period of years
• Farm-vehicle expense deductions

It also offers a list of resources where beginning farmers can find answers to their general income-tax questions. “Tips About Farmer Income Tax” is part of a series of business tip sheets for beginning farmers produced by the NCAT with support from the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR) program offered by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

“Tips About Farmer Income Tax” and the other tip sheets in the series can be downloaded for free or purchased as a paper publication for a small handling fee at the ATTRA website

ATTRA-National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has been developed and maintained by NCAT since 1987 through a cooperative agreement with the USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service. In addition to hundreds of sustainable-agriculture publications, ATTRA’s other popular offerings include a free sustainable-agriculture telephone helpline and the “Ask an Ag Expert” feature on the home page. ATTRA also maintains numerous popular databases, including sustainable-agriculture internships and apprenticeships and is a source for the day’s agriculture news, among other features.

Since 1976, the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) has been helping people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities and protect natural resources. In partnership with businesses, organizations, individuals and agricultural producers, NCAT is working to advance solutions that will ensure the next generation inherits a world that has clean air and water, energy production that is efficient and renewable, and healthy foods grown with sustainable practices. More information about its programs and services is available at or by calling 1-800-ASK-NCAT.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


New Farmer Videos from Cornell

If you Have been looking for some great how-to videos on beginning farming take a moment to look at the library of (free) videos offered on the Cornell website!

Small Farm Central Event Offering

From Small Farm Central Friday, March 15th, 2013. 11am - 4pm EST (8am - 1pm PDT) The CSA Expert Exchange is an online conference that can be accessed with any web browser anywhere in the world. You will be able to see video of the presenters, view slides and participate in the discussion in real time. Topics include community involvement, strategies for increasing member retention, certifications, equipment, finding the right scale for your CSA operation, and legal issues. For more information, read the agenda. Only $45! View live or archived. Register now! Small Farm Central is offering a discount for PA-WAgN members to attend this event. If you are a member of PA Women's Agricultural Network, please contact them for the code to use at checkout!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Meat CSAs and Buying Clubs

by Nick McCann, NCAT Agriculture Marketing Specialist
Reprinted with permission from PASA

In any farm business, it's important to have multiple marketing outlets in order to minimize risk and maintain a stable income. For an increasing number of livestock producers, a meat community-supported agriculture program (CSA) or buying club has become a viable addition to commodity markets or the sale barn. A meat CSA/buying club sells whole, half or quarter carcasses to a group of individuals in order to:

- Minimize the time it takes to sell meat in volume.

- Sell directly to minimize consumer costs.

- Sell the whole animal, not just the high end cuts.

- How can I start and manage a meat CSA/buying club?
Look to church communities or your own social network where people are already organized and familiar with each other to develop your meat CSA/buying club customer base. Customers are often asked to pay for their CSA/buying club share up front. However, when the upfront cost is too high, it is possible to market smaller portions of the carcass.

When does marketing smaller cuts become too time intensive to both raise and market animals? This cut-off point will be different for every business but needs to be considered carefully.

- How do I get my animals butchered and wrapped?
The local meat locker is often a good place to find out about getting your animals butchered and wrapped. Depending on your area, you may have federally inspected state- inspected or custom-exempt butchering plants nearby. There are three main types of facilities.

- Federally Inspected Plant
You may resell your meat to consumers and enter into interstate commerce.

- State Inspected Plant
You may resell meat to consumers, but not across state lines.

- Custom-Exempt Plant
You may deliver meat to your customers, but for legal reasons your customers must pay the custom plant directly for slaughter and cutting services. So you must sell the animal on the hoof and the buyer must pay the processor for butchering cutting and wrapping.

Where can I find other resources about meat CSAs or buying clubs?
Marketing Meat for Small Producers, by Arion Thiboumery, Iowa State University Extension, and Mike Lorentz, Lorentz Meats.

Alternative Meat Marketing Strategies, by Lauren Gwin OSU/Niche Meat Processing Assistance Network.

Local Harvest is an extensive national website of direct marketing that makes it easy for farmers and consumers to find each other.

CSA Center directory at Wilson College.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

CSA marketing tool

Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Extension creates marketing tool to help make farms more profitable
by Other News

HECTOR, N. Y. — Matthew Glenn would rather spend his time growing vegetables than selling vegetables. That is why the Finger Lakes region grower was happy to implement the recommendations of a marketing tool developed by staff at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County.

“We found that if we increased our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) by 12 shares in the first year, we could essentially make up for dropping one of the farmers markets we were going to,” Glenn said. “We realized we could certainly do that and end up with more time to get our farm work done.”

Glenn owns and operates Muddy Fingers Farm with his wife, Liz Martin. Growing four dozen crops on two and a half acres is hard enough without spending an inordinate amount of time during harvest season trying to sell their produce.


Glenn and Martin were among the first beneficiaries of CCE’s Marketing Channel Assessment Tool, a process developed with grant money from the New York Farm Viability Institute. CCE Tompkins County agriculture marketing specialist Matthew LeRoux developed the tool as a way to help farmers figure out which marketing methods are most profitable for their individual farm.

“We wanted to encourage more growers in our region to consider wholesale marketing channels,” LeRoux said. “The idea was to really grow the local food system. (Consumers) might go to farmers markets, but then they might go to grocery stores to do their ‘real’ shopping, and there was no local food there. We wanted to encourage farmers to do more wholesaling to grocery stores and restaurants, etc.”

But first, Extension personnel had to prove that those marketing avenues made sense.
“Among the questions were, ‘Should we be telling people to get into these channels? How did they perform, and how do you gauge performance?’” LeRoux said.


Utilizing state funds channeled through NYFVI, LeRoux interviewed 14 farmers about their experiences with marketing their product and developed the MCAT, which measures time spent harvesting and preparing food for various market channels and compares the cost to farms with the revenue they receive.

“What we came up with was a simple labor log,” LeRoux said. “Everyone who worked on the farm would record their daily labor on some simple forms where they would check off boxes. We ended up condensing activities to four steps of marketing: harvest, washing and packing, travel and conducting sales.”

Each of those steps can vary depending on the final marketing destination for the produce involved, LeRoux said. If you are bunching beets for sale in a grocery store, it takes more time to select and grade the vegetables. If you are selling at a farmers market, it is more time consuming than doing invoices for a wholesale distributor.

“Labor is the single biggest marketing cost,” LeRoux said. “That gave us a lot of information.”


Researchers collected labor data for one typical week on each of the nine farms where the tool has been tested. They then ran those numbers against the factors such as profit and sales volume at each of the market channels the farms were using. The end result was a recommendation of which channels are performing the best for the farm in question and which are performing the worst.

“Farmers can decide whether they should reduce participation in the weakest channel and increase participation in the strongest channel — even to the point of eliminating the weakest channel,” LeRoux said. “That’s what we saw happen. Of the nine farms, I think seven or eight have made changes based on the results.”

One of those was Muddy Fingers, where they have bolstered their strongest performing sector — Community Supported Agriculture — from 60 shares in 2009 to 75 shares last year and 90 shares for the upcoming harvest, Glenn said.

“Time is probably our most limiting factor because it’s just the two of us on the farm during harvest season, and a lot of things get away from us in terms of weeds and the harvest schedule,” Glenn said. “That was good, knowing we’d have a few more hours on the farm.”


It was not difficult to find 30 more area residents interested in participating in the CSA program over the last two years, he said. On a CSA farm, community members typically agree in advance to cover the cost of farming in return for a share of the farm’s bounty.

Share-holders participate in the risks and rewards of farming and often get their hands dirty by helping with on-farm activities. LeRoux’s Marketing Channel Assessment Tool can be used by CSA and non-CSA farms alike and with minimal effort from farmers.

“I found it to be pretty simple,” Glenn said. “I think it was for one or two weeks that Matt gave us forms to keep track of on a daily basis what we were harvesting, how long it took us and where it was going. We filled that in as we were harvesting for each of the crops. It wasn’t too big of a deal.”

LeRoux said he has had interest from other county Extension agents and farmers in implementing the MCAT in their areas.

“I end up presenting at different conferences and meetings about this and I’ve been approached by farmers who say, ‘I’ve been asking this question for years with no way of getting an answer,’” LeRoux said. “I think we’re going to have one or two other counties do it this summer. We have farms there that are really interested and agents who are really excited about it.”

Grant Loss

And CCE Tompkins County had a second NYFVI grant that would have expanded and refined the tool by collecting data on 50 more farms, but that grant was lost in a recent round of budget cuts. Cuts proposed in the current budget would slash NYFVI funding even further. That would be bad news for the farmers who benefit from that research.

“As a result of the Marketing Channel Assessment Tool, we scaled back on farmers markets and increased our CSA, which I think has been a good deal for us,” Glenn said. “I don’t know that we would have conceptualized it as well without MCAT. It was nice to have it in hard figures.”