Getting help on the ground with your farm and ranch business often means navigating the brambles of state and federal agencies. Kim Leval, Center for Rural Affairs Senior Policy Analyst based in Oregon, specializes in advocating for the USDA Value Added Producer Grant program, among other things. Kim says, “I’ve learned a thing or two about where to find help while assisting people who want to enter new markets, expand their on farm value added processing capacity, or market directly at farmers’ markets.” Kim shares her insights below.
USDA has on the ground state staff to help you with marketing, farmer and rancher loan programs, and rural development programs like the Value Added Producer Grant program that assist with new marketing ideas. These offices can be found in the white government pages of your local phone book under USDA. The Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) is a powerful information source. On any given day their information requests might include a Texas rancher wanting to know if he can boost pounds of beef per acre with rotational grazing, or an organic farmer in Iowa who needs sources for canola seed.
They have a toll free number (800.346.9140) you can call and inquire about your particular business idea or production problem. Their team of specialists provides information free of charge, and you get to talk to a real person on the phone. They then research and develop a packet of information and resources just for you.
The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is a grant program with staff in each of four regions of the country (Northeast, Southern, North Central, and Western). There are grants for farmers who wish to seek answers to their production problems via on farm research.
SARE also grants research and education and professional development grants for extension agents and others who wish to learn more about applying sustainable agriculture production or marketing approaches in farming and ranching operations. Check out the SARE website for grant deadlines and information in your area at: http://www.sare.org .
Almost every state has a State Department of Agriculture. This state agency often works with staff of federal agencies that are on the ground. For example, the Oregon Department of Agriculture staff put together a list of resource people who can assist farmers and ranchers with information and grant proposals for the Value Added Producer Grant program and other state and federal funding sources.
If you have difficulty accessing state or federal program staff and programs in your state, I suggest you contact your Governor’s office or the members of your Congressional delegation (senators and representatives). Often they have staff assigned the duty of helping state citizens access federal programs. I’ve learned that many state and federal employees have way more programs to administer than they have time or resources. So, they may not have worked with a particular program enough to know all the ins and outs and regulations. Or they may only be familiar with certain types of agriculture practices. If you want to do something a little “differently” you may also have to find a person open to hearing you.
If that is the case the members of your delegation and their staff can be very helpful in finding the person or department at the state or federal level (often located in Washington DC) that can help with a bottleneck at the state level. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, understanding your rights to contact those at the federal or state level can often make all the difference, not only for your own success but for the success of that program nationwide. Every state and location is unique, but there are similar programs that can help you no matter where you live. Some examples are your land grant colleges (state agricultural schools) and your state Cooperative Extension staff, small farm programs, or rural development centers across the country.
Visit: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/family/res/rural_res_rrdcmap.html for more information on the rural development centers.
Resource Conservation and Development Districts (RC&Ds) are funded by USDA Natural Resource and Conservation Service (NRCS). I’ve been on the board of the Cascade Pacific RC&D in Oregon for several years. We hope to grow processing and marketing capacity and help small/mid-size livestock producers in a six county area.
Our RC&D staff also helps with watershed projects, provides information for growers and landowners on the Conservation Security Program and assists rural people in finding creative avenues and funding to bring projects to fruition.
Check out http://www.rcdnet.org/councils.htm for more information on the RC&Ds in your area.
If you need help in figuring out how to get help in your state, call Kim Leval at 541.687.1490 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org . Remember, persistence pays off
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Center for Rural Affairs
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