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May 25th, 2021

Requesting USDA Set Aside Funding for Farm and Food Business Technical Assistance

American Farmland Trust (AFT) and the Agricultural Viability Alliance (AVA) are among the 119 organizations that urged USDA in a letter today to provide $300 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan Act for business technical assistance to small and mid-sized farm and food businesses.

Separately, 50 Members of Congress sent a similar request to USDA, urging support for this assistance through recent stimulus funding. The congressional letter was spearheaded by Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Antonio Delgado.

“These letters underscore the high degree of congressional and stakeholder support for dedicated business technical assistance funding,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for AFT. “We would like to particularly thank Senator Leahy and Representative Delgado for their leadership. They have been instrumental in building awareness and support in Congress for this much-needed assistance.”

The pandemic underscored not just the value of local and regional farm and food businesses to the resilience of our nation’s food system, but also how essential the development of business skills are to the success of these operations. When restaurants, schools, and other markets closed, many farm and food businesses needed to rapidly pivot their operations to reach new customers, meet new safety standards, and access available relief funding. Those with business technical assistance were far better equipped to meet these challenges.

Both letters urge USDA to provide a dedicated source of funding for one-to-one, customized business support for small and mid-sized farmers, ranchers, and middle of the supply chain food businesses, such as processors, aggregators, and distributors. Non-profits, state agencies, and agricultural extension provide these services which include financial coaching, business planning, market development, succession planning, and help accessing land and capital.

“Business technical assistance has been proven to create jobs, strengthen rural communities, and help young, beginning, and socially disadvantaged producers overcome barriers such as accessing affordable land,” said Ela Chapin, former Viability Director for the Vermont Housing & Conservation Board

Company and a founding executive committee member for AVA. “In my home state of Vermont, we found that two years of business planning support generated a 62 percent increase in net income, as well as added jobs at a rate three times that of the sector average.”

“The administration has emphasized the need to ‘build back better.’” said Todd Erling, Executive Director of the Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation and a founding executive committee member for AVA. “Business technical assistance will not only help these operations recover from the pandemic and capitalize on new opportunities, it will make them more resilient to all kinds of potential disruptions.”

Business technical assistance providers currently rely on piecemeal philanthropic and federal funding. Dedicated federal funding for business technical assistance could make a sizeable impact on the viability of the farm economy.

“AFT and AVA look forward to working with the Administration to help advance this request and to serve as a resource in the implementation of such funds,” said Tim Fink. “The organizational and congressional support helps to show a nationwide need and demand for these types of services.”

Contacts:

Lori Sallet, Media Relations Director, American Farmland Trust, 410.708.5940 lsallet@farmland.org

Todd Erling, Founding Executive Committee Member, Agricultural Viability Alliance and Executive Director, Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation, 518.432.5360 terling@hvadc.org

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American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on a half million additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families.    

The Agricultural Viability Alliance increases the number and economic viability of farm and food businesses by bringing together providers and organizations from across New England and New York’s Hudson Valley to address shared challenges, facilitate more uniform high-quality coverage, and more effectively share and expand limited resources. This project serves business technical assistance providers and organizations that will ultimately support the long-term viability of farms and food enterprises in the region. In addition to its economic impact, the Alliance’s work also fosters a more equitable and inclusive sector that engages traditionally underserved communities, and supports and strengthens entrepreneurs who help conserve farmland and mitigate the effects of climate change for generations to come. Farm and food businesses feed us, help keep our environment healthy, can mitigate climate change, and support our regional economy—so we need them to be viable, thriving businesses. Business technical assistance ensures they can succeed.