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With the Farm Bill’s Future Uncertain, USDA Announces Local Food and Specialty Crop Awards

September 20, 2018


An expanding market for local food promises great opportunities for producers, but it will need support from federal programs. Photo Credit: Lindsey Scalera

An expanding market for local food promises great opportunities for producers, but it will need support from federal programs. Photo Credit: Lindsey Scalera

Local and regional food chains have long been part of the social and economic fabric for some American communities. With the American farm economy is in a multi-year downturn and commodity prices at historic lows, interest has peaked and family farmers nationwide are realizing that big economic opportunities can be found close to home.

The potential of this growing marketplace is not merely anecdotal—data from the 2007 and 2012 Agriculture Censuses show that farmers who market food directly to consumers have a greater chance of remaining in business than similarly sized farms that market through only traditional channels. A follow-on survey to the National Census of Agriculture revealed that in 2015 over 167,000 U.S. farms produced and sold food locally through food hubs and other intermediaries, direct farmer-to-consumer marketing, or direct farm to retail. These sales resulted in $8.7 billion in revenue for producers; and according to USDA, the local and regional food sector is expected to reach $20 billion in sales by 2019.

This economic growth has been fueled in part through policies and programs established in previous Farm Bills, including the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP).

On September 18, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced $102.7 million worth of new investments in specialty crops and new markets; the investment includes $26.8 million in funding for FMLFPP and $72.15 million for the SCBGP, as well as, $1.1 million in funding for the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program and $2.6 million for the ACER Access and Development Program.

Sadly, this could be last round of funding for Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Specialty Crop Block Grants Program for the foreseeable future.

An Uncertain Future for FMLFPP & SCBGP

Despite the success of these programs and the need for investment in the development of new domestic markets, especially in context of the ongoing trade disruptions that have precipitated serious negative impacts for farmers and rural communities: Congress is poised to let FMLFPP and SCBGP expire.

Negotiations around the 2018 Farm Bill are currently deadlocked due to disagreements between House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the latter two of whom continue to work together to advance a full, fair farm bill. It is now looking quite likely that Congress will allow the farm bill to expire without bothering to pass a short-term farm bill extension.

While our preferred outcome continues to be a new farm bill, passed on-time with strong bipartisan support, and based in large part on the bipartisan Senate-passed bill, we must consider the likely scenario of not meeting the September 30 deadline. If Congress does not extend the current farm bill; FMFLPP and SCBGP will come to a screeching halt, as they will lose their legal authority to operate. Current grantees will be able to continue with their projects but no new funding will be made available through the programs.

The USDA announcement of awards for FMLFP and SCBG highlights what is at stake as Congress prepares to leave farmers and rural communities in the lurch.

USDA Awards

Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program

FMLFPP is a competitive grants program that is divided into two sub-programs: 1) the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and 2) the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). This fall’s awards supported 49 FMPP projects at $13.35 million and 44 LFPP awards at roughly $13.45 million.

The FMPP subprogram supports projects that directly connect producers to consumers, such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, roadside stands, pick-your own operations and agri-tourism. In contrast, LFPP grants can be used for processing, distribution, aggregation, storage, and marketing of locally or regionally produced food products sold through intermediated marketing channels.

This year, six NSAC member organizations received FMPP grants:                                                                       

  • California Certified Organic Farmers received approximately $480,000 in partnership with Kitchen Table Advisors and the CA Alliance of Farmers Markets to help small to mid-scale farmers, organic farmers, and small-scale Latino farmers who are facing increasing challenges at farmers markets in their efforts to maintain and grow profitable farm operations. A saturated and increasingly competitive marketplace necessitates innovative thinking to keep up with consumer demands on farm product accessibility.
  • LiveWell Colorado, received nearly $284,000 in partnership with the Colorado Farmers Market Association to increase the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables at 25 farmers markets and other direct markets over two years, by drawing more consumers who will use their nutrition assistance and incentives to purchase fresh, local produce.
  • Future Harvest, Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture received roughly $425,000 to work with Mountains-2-Bay Grazing Alliance, Central Farm Markets, Maryland and Virginia Extension, Maryland Farmers Market Association to increase the supply and demand for grass-fed meat, dairy, and other local, pasture-based products in the Chesapeake region.
  • Certified Naturally Grown, received nearly $330,000 this project will train on how to farmers seeking to meet high standards for ecological farming including for various certifications, such as Certified Naturally Grown, while also promoting markets that set a higher bar for their vendors when it comes to high standards for ecological farming.
  • Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, received over $225,000 to increase the consumption and access of locally and regionally-produced agricultural products by providing an enhanced mobile platform to link organic, sustainable and small-scale farmers with consumers, as well as education and outreach to strengthen that connection.
  • Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, received nearly $480,000 to improve and expand direct sales for farmers in Western North Carolina (WNC) and increase the consumption of locally grown food. This project will help to professionalize markets and farmers, provide farmers and market leaders with tools and skills needed to effectively promote markets and CSAs, create market environments that attract and retain customers, and develop a regional learning community to support farmers market managers and vendors.

A list of all FY 2018 FMPP awards can be found here.

The following four NSAC members received LFPP grants:

  • Georgia Organics, received just over $485,000 to implement a “I’m a Local” Farm-to-Restaurant Campaign that will increase the viability of Georgia’s small organic farms by training them to meet wholesale demands including guidance on business management, food safety, organic certification, and effective recordkeeping. These activities will be coupled with an intensive promotional campaign to metro Atlanta restaurants that recognizes the culinary community for dollars spent on food from local organic farms.
  • Community Farm Alliance in Kentucky received roughly $86,000 to support ongoing efforts to explore the development of an existing 80,000 sq. ft. former industrial site for multiple community opportunities, including the creation of a food and agriculture business incubator serving both farmers and the broader community in a six county region in the foothills of Appalachia that was once a major tobacco-producing region.
  • Maine Farmland Trust received almost $86,000 to work with fellow NSAC members Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association and Costal Enterprises, Inc. to assess the feasibility of building a stable in-state processing business with potential to scale up over time.
  • The Common Market Texas, received approximately $500,000 to increase consumption of healthy local and regional foods and to improve the financial and operational viability of Texas farms, by partnering with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), the premier technical assistance provider in Texas, to train farmers for wholesale markets.                                                      

A list of all FY 2018 LFPP awards can be found here.

Specialty Crop Block Grants Program

SCBGP provides grants on an annual basis to assist state departments of agriculture in enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops. Often, states partner with nonprofit organizations, producer groups, and colleges and universities to develop their application and administer the program. States can use the block grants to supplement state-run specialty crop programs and/or make grants available for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.

A list of the amount of funding each state was provided out of the total $72.15 million can be found here. Unfortunately, a more in depth description of how each state will utilize the funding was not available at the time of publication. Once USDA makes that information available we will update this blog.

Federal State Marketing Improvement Program

The Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) is a small competitive grants program designed to assist states with exploring new market opportunities through research and innovation. While only state agencies and institutions are eligible for grant awards, FSMIP funds can be used to conduct research projects in collaboration with non-profit organizations, community, or producer groups that solve practical marketing problems, including those facing small and medium-scale farmers. A list of the projects funded through the September awards announcement can be found here.

ACER Access and Development Program

The Acer Access and Development Program offers grants to support the efforts to promote the domestic maple syrup industry. Supported activities include: promotion of research and education related to maple syrup production; promotion of natural resource sustainability in the maple syrup industry; market promotion for maple syrup and maple-sap products; encouragement of owners and operators of privately held land containing species of trees in the genus Acer to initiate or expand maple-sugaring activities on the land; or to voluntarily make the land available, including by lease or other means, for access by the public for maple-sugaring activities. Full list of the projects funded through the September awards announcement can be found here.


Categories: Farm Bill, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Marketing and Labeling


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