USDA to start offering farm microloans
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The USDA has created a new loan program to help small farmers, including growers who want to take advantage of the soaring interest in locally produced food.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday new “microloans” of up to $35,000 are designed to help bolster family-run farms, as well as minority growers and military veterans seeking to start a farm who might otherwise have trouble qualifying for small loans from banks or other USDA loan programs.
The loans can help farmers grow niche or organic crops to sell directly to ethnic and farmers’ markets, or contribute to community-supported agriculture programs. Vilsack noted direct-to-consumer sales is a fast-growing sector, with a 60 percent increase in farmers’ markets in the past three years.
The loan can cover the costs of renting land, seed, equipment and other expenses. The goal is to create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment in the farming industry, Vilsack said.
Since 2009, the federal government has issued more than 128,000 loans totaling nearly $18 billion through the Farm Service Agency Operating Loan Program. It has increased the number of loans to beginning farmers and ranchers from 11,000 in 2008 to 15,000 in 2011.
Agriculture Workforce Coalition to address labor needs
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Organizations representing a broad cross-section of agricultural employers announced the formation of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) Jan. 11.
As the unified voice of agriculture, the AWC’s stated goal is to seek legislation that ensures America’s farms, ranches and other agricultural operations to have access to a stable and skilled workforce.
A key to the framework will be ensuring it meets the needs of all of agriculture – both those employers with seasonal labor needs and those who provide year-round employment.
Additional information on the AWC can be found on its website at www.agwork forcecoalition.org
Judge urges settlement in migrant housing dispute
DOWAGIAC, Mich. (AP) — A federal judge is urging the government and a southwestern Michigan farm to settle a lawsuit over housing for migrant workers.
The Labor Department accused Berrybrook Enterprises and owner Joe Hassle Sr. of failing to meet a number of conditions, including adequate water, screens and rodent control. The farm signed an agreement in 2010 to improve housing for migrant workers.
Lawyers said there have been meaningful settlement discussions. Judge Janet Neff wants an update by Feb. 15.
State to pay Michigan farmer for slain bison
TWINING, Mich. (AP) — A northern Michigan farmer will receive $999.99 in compensation from the state for a wandering bison shot and killed last fall by a neighbor.
The Detroit Free Press reported the Department of Natural Resources has settled the claim with Gaven Dietzel, who raises bison for beef in Twining in Arenac County. The pregnant bison had escaped Dietzel’s northeastern Lower Peninsula farm when it was spotted by Mark Ceo.
Ceo said he contacted a state conservation officer before shooting the animal to be sure it was allowed. He was given the OK and shot the bison with a muzzleloader to harvest its meat. A DNR spokesman said Ceo was given inaccurate information. Dietzel said the bison was worth about $2,500.