U.S. agriculture has evolved to be remarkably efficient at transporting food across the country or around the world. That’s due in part to advances in equipment – including cold-chain infrastructure like refrigerated trucks – that provides proper storage for agricultural commodities from farm to consumer.
As consumer interest in locally-grown food has grown, food purchasers like grocery stores, restaurants and schools seek larger volumes of local product. That means that many farmers and ranchers selling their products locally have an opportunity to scale up, no longer using just a few coolers to deliver products to a farmers market, but now examining how to purchase larger handling and storage equipment that can deliver bigger volumes that grocery stores and restaurants need.
It is this exciting shift that brought the administrators of USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to Columbus, Ohio for a series of local food-focused events and to share a major announcement.
FSA Administrator Val Dolcini and AMS Administrator Elanor Starmer held a roundtable discussion and other events with producers and businesses involved in local and regional food production. Dolcini and Starmer also announced an expansion of a USDA loan program that will help a greater number of farms and ranches.
The USDA Farm Storage Facility Loan (FSFL) program now offers a new financing option to help small farmers purchase portable storage and handling equipment, including refrigerated trucks, the cost of which can be burdensome for a small producer. These “microloans” are designed especially for applicants who seek less than $50,000. With lower down payments of only 5 percent, and no requirement to provide three years of production history for eligibility, the FSFL microloan is expended to benefit a wide variety of new, small, and mid-sized farmers and ranchers and specialty crop producers who otherwise may not have access to commercial storage or on-farm storage after harvest and would prefer to own rather than rent equipment.
“As more communities reconnect with agriculture, consumer demand is increasing for food produced locally or regionally,” said Dolcini, speaking at a roundtable hosted by the Mid-Ohio Food Bank in Columbus. “Portable handling and storage equipment helps these farmers get their products to market more quickly, better maintain product quality, and bring greater returns.”
Producers can invest in conveyors, scales or refrigeration units and trucks that can store commodities before delivering them to markets. Producers do not need to demonstrate the lack of commercial credit availability to apply.
“Growing high-value crops for local and regional markets is a common entry point for new farmers,” said Starmer. “A loan can give them room in their budgets to buy mobile coolers or refrigerated trucks to bring their perishable products to market. In turn, these producers are able to supply the growing number of food hubs, farmers markets or stores and restaurants interested in sourcing local food.”
The new storage microloan represents USDA’s commitment to local and regional farmers and ranchers as part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) initiative, which helps farmers, ranchers, and businesses access the growing market for local and regional foods. Find out more about USDA’s results under the KYF2 initiative.