USDA offers up new seed money for small farmers
Make your hydroponic backyard organic kale dreams come true, now with help from the federal government. Yesterday the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a microloan program to assist veterans, minority growers, and small-time farmers who might otherwise have to rely on credit cards to get their farms up and running.
The microloans, up to $35,000 each, will be majorly helpful in an industry where loans are usually for much bigger sums, and involve much bigger stacks of paperwork. More microloans could mean more microfarms, and more diverse ones on the whole, and super-low interest rates (currently 1.25 percent) could certainly cut down on farmers’ debt load. From the Associated Press:
Over the last three years, there has been a 60 percent increase in local growers who sell directly to consumers or farmers markets, Agriculture Department Secretary Tom Vilsack said…
The loan can cover the costs of renting land, buying seed and equipment, and other expenses. One goal is to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in the farming industry, Vilsack said. Another goal is to provide beginners a chance to build credit, so that they can eventually qualify for higher-value loans and expand.
“It’s about making sure that we have diversity within agriculture, that we have a good blend of large production facilities, medium-sized operations and smaller operations,” Vilsack
said. “It will help bolster the local and regional food system movement that is taking place.”
Some small-time farmers were optimistic, but is $35,000 too micro of a loan to do much good?
That would be a good question for economists who don’t have a beef with their local farmers market. Iowa State University economist and local food researcher David Swenson is particularly grumpy about the USDA’s goals. “This is a policy area where community affection and political affection for the idea of local foods has gotten itself way out in front of the economics,” he said. Goddamn that community affection. David Swenson must be hanging out with Glenn Beck lately.