This month, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced more than $300 million in awards to 50 projects focused on increasing underserved farmers and ranchers’ access to land, markets, and capital. These projects were awarded under the Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access (Increasing Land Access) Program (LCM). This program funds cooperative agreements or grants for projects that help move underserved producers from surviving to thriving. The awardees – which include many National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) members – proposed national, regional, and local projects that cover 40 states and territories including Washington DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.
Land access is one of the biggest challenges for young and beginning farmers all across the country – whether small-scale dairy farmers in New England, livestock and grain producers in the Midwest, or specialty crop producers across the South. This is especially true for BIPOC farmers, who face even greater challenges accessing land and capital. Historic discrimination by USDA shut BIPOC farmers out from many of the traditional means of accessing land and capital and resulted in a massive transfer of land away from black farmers. Today, just 1% of farmers in the United States identify as Black. In addition, over the last decade, farmland prices have doubled nationwide and risen far higher in areas with pressure due to real estate development or commodity prices. The ability to access land is a crucial component of ensuring land remains in agriculture and that new farmers can be economically viable.
In February 2022, USDA released its Equity Action Plan, a framework for reckoning with USDA’s history of challenges with underserved communities, including Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American and other farmers of color. Later that year, acting on the framework laid out in the Equity Action Plan, USDA made a historic new investment to fund and direct action to help underserved producers with the resources, tools, programs, and technical assistance they need to succeed in agriculture. With funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Section 1006, as amended by Section 22007 of the Inflation Reduction Act, USDA made available $300 million for projects that enable underserved producers to access land, capital, and markets. The program was the first of its kind to directly address land access and related challenges facing young, beginning, and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) producers, with services including succession planning, down payment support, business and financial planning, and heirs’ property title resolution.
NSAC congratulates all LCM recipients, including the following NSAC members: California Alliance of Family Farms (CAFF), World Farmers, Cultivate Kansas City, Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), Maine Farmland Trust, Agrarian Trust, and Land Stewardship Project (LSP).
This round of awards is the first-time funds have been distributed through the LCM program. Projects ranged from increasing farmland ownership and access for immigrants, refugees, and underserved farmers in Massachusetts, Maine, New York, and Florida to a pilot distribution of food boxes to Tribal elders with three Wisconsin Tribes eventually expanding to all eleven Wisconsin Tribes. NSAC is pleased to see a significant amount of funding awarded to Native American tribes and tribal institutions/nonprofits, as well as funding granted to Alabama A&M University, an 1890 institution.
Project highlights include:
Leveraging a Latino-led CDFI to provide Capital, Market, and Land Access to Underserved Farmers – Latin Economic Development Center
This project lays out a collaborative roadmap for partnership between LEDC – a Latino-led Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI,) Land Stewardship Project (LSP) – a large Farmer-led organization, The Good Acre (TGA) – a warehouse and distribution center specifically designed to work with underserved producers, and The Conservation Fund (TCF) – a national conservation trust with a Working Farms Fund. This partnership will work to systematically address the needs of underserved farmers by leveraging the unique skillset of a CDFI, with demonstrated agricultural lending experience, to provide access to capital to underserved producers while connecting those producers to 1) crucial market contracts 2) a system for identifying and working with landowners who are looking to transfer their land’s ownership, and 3) a conservation fund with the ability to purchase and hold land for underserved farmers until other financing can be found.
National Native American Land, Capital, and Market Access Program – Intertribal Ag Council
The Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) will lead a national land, capital, and market access campaign for the direct benefit of Native American producers across the United States. The National Native American Land, Capital, and Market Access Program will support American Indian producers to begin or expand food production on land that they own or lease. This support will be provided to producers through business and production planning, land identification, loan procurement, and market readiness for the longevity and viability of their food businesses. Three goals of the project are to: 1) identify needs and deliver producer readiness training, 2) leverage capital for food production, land leases, and purchases, 3) close the loop with ready-for-market support services.
Creating a Pathway to Land Ownership for Immigrants, Refugees, and Underserved Farmers in MA, ME, NY, and FL – World Farmers Inc.
This collaborative project entitled Creating a Pathway to Land Ownership for Immigrants, Refugees, and Underserved Farmers in MA, ME, NY, and FL will increase farmland ownership and access for underserved farmers, transition open land into viable farmland, and preserve farmland in perpetuity all while enhancing immigrant and refugee farmers’ business viability and utilization of USDA programs and services. Every piece of land purchased as a result of this project will be ushered through a three-pronged approach to increase farmland ownership by underserved farmers. This approach includes: 1) accessing USDA-FSA farm ownership loan; 2) utilizing project funds through two notable new programs developed through this project; and 3) identifying third party funds.
Summaries of all 50 projects are here.
Accessing Land, Markets, and Capital in the Farm Bill
The LCM Program was funded through the Inflation Reduction Act and therefore is not currently a permanent program, meaning that Congress must act if the program is to continue. In June, Representatives Budzinski (D-IL-13), Nunn (R-IA-03), Courtney (D-CT-02), and Spanberger (D-VA-07) introduced the bipartisan Increasing Land Access, Security and Opportunities Act. A Senate companion bill was introduced by Senator Smith (D-MN) in July. This legislation would expand the capabilities of the LCM program and authorize $100 million per year in funding and would be a historic step toward addressing the land access crisis facing this new generation of farmers.