FAQ: Small and mid-scale family farms operating in local and regional food markets got some welcome news from USDA recently. USDA’s Farm Service Agency says their Farm Storage Facility Loan program can now help finance portable storage structures, portable equipment, and storage and handling trucks in addition to continuing its longstanding capacity to finance stationary crop and cold storage on-farm facilities. What are the details of this expanded USDA loan program?
Answer: USDA announced in late April it will provide a new financing option to help farmers purchase portable storage and handling equipment. Farm Service Agency (FSA) administrator Val Dolcini and Ag Marketing Service (AMS) administrator Elanor Starmer announced changes to the Farm Storage Facility Loan program. The loans, which now include a smaller microloan option with lower down payments, are designed to help producers, including new, small and mid-sized producers, grow their businesses and markets.
"As more communities reconnect with agriculture, consumer demand is increasing for food produced locally or regionally," said Dolcini. "Portable handling and storage equipment is vital to helping farmers get their products to market more quickly and better maintain product quality, bringing them greater returns. That's why we've added this type of equipment as a new category for our Farm Storage Facility Loan program."
Easier loan application process with less paperwork
The program also offers a new "microloan" option, allowing applicants seeking less than $50,000 to qualify for a reduced down payment of 5% and no requirement to provide three years of production history. Farms and ranches of all sizes are eligible.
The microloan option is of particular benefit to smaller farms and ranches, and specialty crop producers who may not have access to commercial storage or on-farm storage after harvest. These farmers can invest in equipment like conveyers, scales or refrigeration units and trucks that can store commodities before delivering them to markets. Farmers do not need to demonstrate a 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. “Since they often rent land and have to transport perishable commodities, a loan that can cover mobile coolers or even refrigerated trucks fills an important gap. These producers in turn supply the growing number of food hubs, farmers markets or stores and restaurants interested in sourcing local food."
Expanded the list of commodities eligible for loan
Earlier this year, FSA significantly expanded the list of commodities eligible for Farm Storage Facility Loan. Eligible commodities now include aquaculture; floriculture; fruits (including nuts) and vegetables; corn, grain sorghum, rice, oilseeds, oats, wheat, triticale, spelt, buckwheat, lentils, chickpeas, dry peas, sugar, peanuts, barley, rye, hay, honey, hops, maple sap, unprocessed meat and poultry, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, yogurt and renewable biomass. FSFL microloans can also be used to finance wash and pack equipment used post-harvest, before a commodity is placed in cold storage.
AMS helps thousands of agricultural food producers and businesses enhance their marketing efforts through a combination of research, technical services and grants, says Starmer. The agency works to improve marketing opportunities for U.S. growers and producers, including those involved in specialty crop production and in the local and regional food systems. Visit ams.usda.gov to learn more about AMS services.
Helping farmers get products to market quickly
This announcement further advances the efforts of USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates USDA‘s work to develop local and regional food systems. Dolcini says USDA is committed to helping farmers, ranchers and businesses access the growing market for local and regional foods, which was valued at $12 billion in 2014 according to industry estimates.