September 20, 2018
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.
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.
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:
A list of all FY 2018 FMPP awards can be found here.
The following four NSAC members received LFPP grants:
A list of all FY 2018 LFPP awards can be found here.
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 full list of funded projects in each state can be found here.
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.
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.