Comments by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary this week disturbed many of us who support smaller farms and fisheries. USDA Secretary Purdue seemed to signal that the federal government does not recognize the inherent value of a wide independent network of food producers. I fear that small innovative farm operations, greenhouses, and aquaculture operations will have trouble finding support from the USDA. While the USDA has historically supported small farms, we see less evidence of this lately. In the recent local USDA farm financing applications I’ve seen or heard about, few are approved. In contrast, we know of several approved USDA funding requests for large corporations and government agencies here in Cumberland County NJ.
It’s no exaggeration to say that small farms are vital to our survival on the planet. Yet the Secretary said “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out“. The article below details this position taken by the Secretary this week.
This blog post is not meant to delve into the issue of why small farms are important. The are. If you aren’t convinced, Google it. There are many great explanations of why food source diversity is so important. Yet the Secretary’s comments sound more like a Trump campaign speech; they do not reflect an understanding of the nation’s agricultural industry as we know it. Obviously many in the industry were upset by the comments.
Many of my clients, friends and neighbors are small business farmers. We know how important this sector is to our food supply safety, health and quality of food. Americans reject the concept that most of our food should come from a few large corporations.
I’ve worked closely with small farms my whole life. My first business was a sweet corn farm. Then I attended agricultural college and business school. Now I work to support these small farms, fisheries and aquaculture operations in the Delaware Valley region with business, accounting and financing. I’m a member of the New Jersey Farm Bureau and have several certifications in food process safety to help these smaller food producers. I still operate a small soft shell crab operation under the brand name “Crab Dynasty” and I work through Baysave to support other smaller seafood businesses. I find the current government’s lack of leadership in supporting small farmers to be scary.
Here in Delaware and Cumberland County New Jersey, agriculture was one of our primary most important industries. While the service sector now dominates the local economy here, just as it does in most other places, agriculture and related food industries remain among our success stories. Yet smaller businesses that report difficulty working with the local USDA office.
Do we want the big farms to get bigger and the small farms go away? Absolutely not. But it is important to recognize that we are increasingly facing even more business challenges stemming from lack of support from the federal government.