Farmers share concerns with USDA officials

USDA officials have heard from beginning farmers about their experiences with the agency – both the good and the bad – in an online town hall meeting.

A southern Illinois farmer told USDA officials about roadblocks to conservation program sign-up. Barbara Heyen, who inherited her parents farm four years ago, said land stewardship and conservation are very important to her, but, “As a beginning farmer I have not been eligible for CRP, CRP grasslands or programs requiring crop history for eligibility. The farm has no crop history. That was beyond my control.”

Drew Mogler with the Iowa Pork Producers Association says they appreciate the help USDA has provided their members through the pandemic but there are still a lot of them – many beginning producers – who raise pigs under contract sitting on empty barns.

“We would really appreciate some assistance from USDA to further along or speed up ghe review of those processes and then also continue to look at some of those issues that we’re seeing this year as well and then put together some assistance for those folks.”

An Ohio specialty crop grower has told the USDA that it needs to do more to help new farmers get assistance.

Rachel Tayse of Columbus, Ohio is also the beginning farmer coordinator of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association and says while she and others got COVID aid from USDA through the second Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2), others did not.

“Unfortunately, beginning farmers not already established with the FSA struggled to get their phone calls returned in Ohio and those in their very first years of production did not have the sales history for sufficient support.”

She called on the Farm Service Agency to simplify the application process, “And, FSA offices must be trained and held accountable to provide equitable and inclusive service in all locations to all farmers.”

Tayse says she was able to get COVID relief but many new farmers who had been dismissed or ignored by USDA before didn’t even try.

Midway through the pandemic, cost share funding for organic certification was cut which she says that made things even harder. She recommends FSA provide 100% cost share for organic certification at all times.

Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux and Deputy Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Gloria Montaño Greene were among the USDA officials who welcomed the feedback.  

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