By Murray Dale Watts, FSA Regional Public Affairs Specialist
USDA Farm Service Administrator Juan M. Garcia addressed the 6th National Small Farm Conference in Memphis, Tenn., this week focusing on USDA’s outreach efforts and providing support and resources to help producers enhance their operations.
“Our outreach coordinators play a major role in increasing awareness of USDA services. It doesn’t just happen, our employees and partners work hard to make it happen,” said Garcia, speaking to more than 700 attendees at the opening general session.
He said one of the biggest challenges for USDA is to develop and maintain strong communication with producers about the programs available. He added that by reaching more farmers — including socially disadvantaged and younger farmers — and providing better information will allow more producers to have profitable operations.
“I know this is a difficult task. I am a fifth generation farmer. I studied agriculture in college and would come home with ideas and suggestions for my grandfather,” said Garcia. “Trying to convince him to try something different was often a challenging task. So I know the challenges our employees face in reaching out to some of our producers.”
Garcia also stated that FSA works to reach underserved producers and young people. “My personal definition of outreach is to go beyond what is expected,” said Garcia. “FSA is here to provide training and education to increase participation in FSA disaster programs, conservation, price support and loans. FSA works closely within the community to find the best avenue to reach all producers in order to ensure their success.”
Several panel discussions held at the event had participants echoing Garcia’s comments.
Alvin Harris of Harris Farms in Millington, Tenn., said it is hard for beginning farmer to find the financing to get started. “Land and equipment are expensive and without good programs to support them, we will not have enough young people moving into food production in the future,” he said.
Vickie Hebb of Cherry Creek, S.D., echoed his remarks and said small producers need to maximize program participation. “The Beginning Farmer and Socially Disadvantaged programs are important tools to help keep small farms and ranches moving forward,” she said.
Since 1996, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), working with land-grant universities, has organized National Small Farm Conferences to highlight successful programs that enhance income and improve the quality of life of small-scale farmers and ranchers. The conferences are held in different parts of the country to attract a diverse attendance of small farm specialists and producers.