The United States Department of Agriculture is reaching out in a special way to women and minority farmers and growers in Michigan.
What’s behind this focus on “non-traditional” growers? And why is the USDA making its Michigan announcement in Flint?
USDA Farm Service Agency administrator Val Dolcini joined us today to talk about the USDA's push to reach out to these "non-traditional" producers, and some of the challenges facing today’s farmers and ranchers.
“These are challenging times. Commodity prices have declined, the [agricultural] economy has softened somewhat around the nation, natural disasters have affected various parts of the nation.... It’s tough to be a farmer these days, and that’s why the safety net programs that USDA is providing are really so essential,” Dolcini said.
“We completed a fiscal year just last week that saw us make over $6.3 billion in loans available to farmers and ranchers around the country, and that really speaks to a need for greater financial assistance and greater tools and services and programs for those men and women that grow our food, fuel and fiber.”
Dolcini told us part of his focus right now is to visit with new and beginning farmers and ranchers who are working in an urban environment to let them know that the USDA is eager to help them.
“You’ve got a lot of different things that I think are more adapted to the needs of urban farmers and farmers that really have been traditionally underserved by USDA programs over the years,” he said.
“What I’m trying to do is bring farmers of color, returning veterans, urban farmers, women farmers, other into the fold that need to be able to take advantage of the safety net programs that have served more traditional operations so well since the days of the New Deal.”
His advice for new and beginning farmers and ranchers:
“Reach out to me. I really want to make sure that folks know that they’re welcome in our offices, even if they live in urban areas. We’ve got a good website … that has all kinds of really important information about program opportunities. Chances are good that there’s an FSA office not too far from where you’re living. We have 50 offices here in the state of Michigan, and … hundreds of others around the nation.”
“It’s really important for urban farmers who are interested in learning a little bit more about our programs … know that they can come to USDA, get their questions answered, and hopefully develop a relationship that builds their businesses and serves their communities.”
Listen to our conversation above for more.