New National Network for Women in Agriculture

USDA Creates New National Mentoring Network for Women in Agriculture

By Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden

To be a woman in agriculture is to face a unique set of challenges. And because I know all too well the trials that women can face as they look to take on leadership roles, I made it a goal as USDA’s Deputy Secretary to start a community for women leaders in agriculture.

This past fall, I held a White House discussion with farmers, agribusiness, academics and youth leaders about the opportunities that exist to help advance women in agriculture to leadership positions. Since that meeting, the response has been overwhelming. Women from all walks of life and every sector of the agriculture supply chain are empowering one another, and they’re sharing beautiful photographs and touching stories about how they’ve done it.

Today, I am announcing the creation of the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. This newly established network is designed to support and engage women across all areas of agriculture and to foster professional partnerships between women with shared backgrounds, interests, and professional goals.

We have created an e-mail address, agwomenlead@usda.gov, for you to share your suggestions, stories and other snippets on how we can build a new generation of women leaders in agriculture. By e-mailing us, you will automatically be added to the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network.

I am truly excited by the passion and confidence I continue to see in women in agriculture across the country. In the office, on the road, I am constantly stopped by young women looking to find mentorship, or current leaders looking to lift up our next generation. Now, with our new network, you can.

This is just the first step in giving women the tools they need to be successful agricultural leaders. Keep sharing your stories using #womeninag and stay tuned for more information on the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network.

Madeline Schultz, cofounder of the Women in Agriculture Learning Network, posted TODAY:

The online community at Women in Agriculture Learning Network looks forward to partnering with USDA on this new initiative! The Deputy Secretary’s commitment to rural women and to this new project further validates and recognizes the important roles women take on from leadership on cooperative boards to managing the family farm.

 

USDA Expands Access to Credit to Help More Beginning and Family Farmers

Source: Monique Bienvenue – Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will improve farm loans by expanding eligibility and increasing lending limits to help more beginning and family farmers.

As part of this effort, USDA is raising the borrowing limit for the microloan program from $35,000 to $50,000; simplify the lending processes; updating required “farming experience” to include other valuable experiences; and expanding eligible business entities to reflect changes in the way family farms are owned and operated. The changes become effective Nov. 7.

“USDA is continuing its commitment to new and existing family farmers and ranchers by expanding access to credit,” said Harden. “These new flexibilities, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, will help more people who are considering farming and ranching, or who want to strengthen their existing family operation.”

The microloan changes announced today will allow beginning, small and mid-sized farmers to access an additional $15,000 in loans using a simplified application process with up to seven years to repay. These efforts are part of USDA’s continued commitment to small and midsized farming operations, and new and beginning farmers.

In addition to farm related experience, other types of skills may be considered to meet the direct farming experience required for farm loan eligibility such as operation or management of a non-farm business, leadership positions while serving in the military, or advanced education in an agricultural field. Also, individuals who own farmland under a different legal entity operating the farm now may be eligible for loans administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA).

Producers will have an opportunity to share suggestions on the microloan process, and the definitions of farming experience and business structures through Dec. 8, 2014, the public open comment period.

FSA is also publishing a Federal Register notice to solicit ideas from the public for pilot projects to help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of farm loan programs. Comments and ideas regarding potential pilot projects will be accepted through Nov. 7, 2014.

Since 2010, USDA has made a record amount of farm loans through FSA — more than 165,000 loans totaling nearly $23 billion. More than 50 percent of USDA’s farm loans now go to beginning farmers. In addition, USDA has increased its lending to socially-disadvantaged producers by nearly 50 percent since 2010.

These programs were made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America.

USDA Launches New Website for New Farmers and Ranchers

Source: Logan Britton, 2014 National FFA Organization Communications Intern

Farmers work hard. They work to produce food that will eventually be on our dinner plate, while dealing with unpredictable weather, long hours and countless risks. New farmers face more obstacles with starting their operations with acquiring land, equipment and capital as well as learning about regulations and insurance policies.

With these new challenges, the U.S. Department of Agriculture hopes to guide the next generation of farmers for their future careers. As FFA members are also preparing to be future leaders in the industry, USDA’s New Farmers website could be used as a valuable resource.

The website takes users through a step-by-step process in creating an operation. These steps include education and technical assistance, acquiring land and capital, managing risk and financial management.

FFA members trying to start their supervised agriculture experience programs can find youth loans useful. The Farm Service Agency provides up to $5,000 to be used to buy livestock, seed, equipment and other operational items. If an FFA member wanted to expand their SAE, they could check out value-added producer grants and the USDA National Farmers Market Directory. These resources could help a member find different ways to sell their products in new markets.

Krysta Harden, agriculture deputy secretary, said the age of farmers is increasing, with the average age currently standing at 58 years old.

“New and beginning farmers are the future of American agriculture,” Harden said. “For agriculture to continue prospering in this country, we need to offer products and policies that address the unique challenges and issues facing new and beginning farmers. This website aims to address some of those challenges and make getting started just a little bit easier for the next generation.”

The website also provides information for creating a business plan as well as blogs and videos of topics that pertain to new farmers and ranchers.

Pollinator Survey Shows Better Results but Significant Losses, Plus USDA Fall Summit on Bee Nutrition and Forage

While an annual pollinator survey of beekeepers, released yesterday, shows fewer U.S. colony losses over the winter of 2013-2014 than in recent years, beekeepers say losses remain higher than a sustainable level. According to the survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland Bee Informed Partnership, the total loss (death) of managed honey bee colonies from all causes was 23.2 percent nationwide, well above the 18.9 percent level of loss that beekeepers accept as economically sustainable. Nevertheless, the losses were an improvement over the national 30.5 percent loss, and the California 28.6 percent loss, both for the winter of 2012-2013, and over the eight-year average loss of 29.6 percent.

More than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators, such as bees, to reproduce, meaning pollinators help produce one out of every three bites of food Americans eat.

“Pollinators, such as bees, birds and other insects are essential partners for farmers and ranchers and help produce much of our food supply. Healthy pollinator populations are critical to the continued economic well-being of agricultural producers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While we’re glad to see improvement this year, losses are still too high and there is still much more work to be done to stabilize bee populations.”

“Honeybees pollinate more than 130 California crops, including almonds, California’s largest agricultural export. More than 780,000 acres of almonds grow in California, and for pollination, they need an estimated 1.6 million hives, more than 60 percent of the nation’s total,” according to Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee.

There is no way to tell why the bees did better this year, according to both Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a University of Maryland assistant professor and director of the Bee Informed Partnership, and Jeff Pettis, research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory.

Although the pollinator survey shows improvement, losses remain above the level that beekeepers consider to be economically sustainable. This year, almost two-thirds of the beekeepers responding reported losses greater than the 18.9 percent threshold.

“Yearly fluctuations in the rate of losses like these only demonstrate how complicated the whole issue of honey bee heath has become, with factors such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even sublethal effects of pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies,” said Jeff Pettis.

The winter losses survey covers the period from October 2013 through April 2014. About 7,200 beekeepers responded to the voluntary survey.

A complete analysis of the bee survey data will be published later this year. The summary of the analysis is at http://beeinformed.org/results-categories/winter-loss-2013-2014/.

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also announced a summit in Washington D.C. on October 20-21, 2014 aimed at addressing the nutrition and forage needs of pollinators. Attendees will discuss the most recent research related to pollinator loss and work to identify solutions.

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Additionally, in March of 2014, Secretary Vilsack created a Pollinator Working Group, under the leadership of Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, to better coordinate efforts, leverage resources, and increase focus on pollinator issues across USDA agencies.

USDA personnel from ten Department agencies (Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Farm Services Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Economic Research Service, Forest Service, Agricultural Marketing Service, Risk Management Agency and Rural Development) meet regularly to coordinate and evaluate efforts as USDA strives toward improving pollinator health and ensuring our pollinators continuing contributions to our nation’s environment and food security.

Photo credit: UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology