Talking to National Farmer Union members at their annual meeting in Santa Fe last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said USDA is rolling out new and expanded efforts to help small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers service local and regional markets.

New initiatives will connect farmers to new USDA learning guides and will enable them to participate in risk management and help them access capital easier as their farms expand.

New farm program made easy

"The recent Census of Agriculture shows tremendous growth potential for small and mid-sized producers in the American agricultural landscape," Vilsack said.

The new initiatives are designed primarily for small to mid-sized producers, but Vilsack emphasised that larger, profitable farm and ranch operations remain central to the success of U.S. Agriculture as well. But while larger farms may have access to resources, financing and safety net programs and options, smaller and mid-size farm operators are generally limited, and the new initiative is primarily designed to fill the gap for this growing sector.

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"USDA is taking a hard look at our existing resources to ensure that they work for producers of all sizes. We've adjusted policies, strengthened programs and intensified outreach to meet the needs of small and mid-sized producers. These producers are critical to our country's agricultural and economic future," Vilsack added.

Results of the recently released agriculture census, once again, indicates that the average age of the nation's farmer is continuing to rise and though young men and women are generally taking an interest in the industry, they are often faced with limitations of resources that make getting established as a new farm business difficult.

Vilsack explained to reporters later in the day at a press session that the initiatives could also provide smaller and mid-size farmers with risk management tools, help in acquiring hoop houses, and access to USDA staff and educational programs.

Through education, instruction and guidance, the initiative provides small and mid-size farm operators a chance to learn about the rising demand for locally grown products and how they can engage in regional food systems. The program also is designed to address food safety and local market opportunities.