FCS Diversity and Inclusion - PROPOSED RULE - MARCH 2011 Dear Mr. Van Meter,
Thanks for the opportunity to comment on ways the Farm Credit Service can better serve local and regional food producers. It is essential that farm loans be available to smaller farms that produce food for local and regional markets as other sources of loan money either are not interested or do not understand the business model these food producers are following and thus are loath to issue loans to them. The Farm Credit Service is an agency that knows farming enterprises inside and out. My Brother and I had a loan for many years with FCS until it was paid off.
I also work as Executive Director for the Northeast Pasture Consortium as a part-time job. This organization represents pasture-based producers that are small scale, mostly local food producers. Many of the beef and sheep producers sell their meats locally in cooperation with nearby small meatpacking plants. The dairy people provide milk to local dairy firms, organic and conventional milk processors. Some even produce cheeses and raw milk for local consumers. Grass-fed beef and lamb is increasingly more acceptable to consumers, and with feed grain prices soaring, it is a way for farmers to feed out their livestock inexpensively. These people would be good candidates to serve on FCS boards.
The main thing you will need to do is writie the rules so that the producers identified as local or regional food producers truly are marketing locallly or regionally. Size of the operation either in terms of income or acreage would not really necessarily mean that the food was distributed locally. For instance, many small cow-calf operations may still end up shipping their calves to a large feedlot several hundred miles away. The use of the word regional can be expanded in practice to dilute the representation of producers who really produce food for a much smaller "region" or local market.
Loans may be needed for refrigerated trucks and display cases so that meat and dairy producers can go to farmers markets and sell their products in a safe manner so the meat stays properly chilled or frozen. Each farm producing local meat and dairy products are vertically integrated so their loan needs will be much broader than a producer who does just one or two of the stages of production and depends on someone else to do the rest.
James Cropper Partner, Cropper Farms Executive Director, Northeast Pasture Consortium