We applaud today’s announcement of the creation of twelve new Regional Food Business Centers by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Centers, first proposed by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) in September 2022, will provide coordination, technical assistance, and capacity-building to small and mid-sized farm and food businesses in order to build resilient local and regional food systems. The announcement comes as Congress begins consideration of the next Farm Bill and marks a critical step in AFT’s ongoing advocacy to provide additional business technical assistance (BTA) to farmers and food businesses.
“Today’s announcement comes at a critical time—not only for farmers and the local food systems they underpin—but as Congress works to increase the resilience of our food supply in the next Farm Bill,” said Tim Fink, Policy Director for American Farmland Trust. “The establishment of Regional Food Business Centers throughout the country will help ensure farmers and food businesses receive the business technical assistance and infrastructure investments they need to stay viable and feed their communities in a challenging environment. We applaud Secretary Vilsack and Under Secretary Moffitt for this work, and we’re excited to help build on it.”
The Centers follow a continued effort by AFT, in partnership with the Agricultural Viability Alliance (the Alliance), to establish dedicated funding at USDA for one-to-one business technical assistance. In 2021, more than 110 organizations joined AFT and the Alliance in urging USDA to prioritize this type of technical assistance to small and mid-sized farm and food businesses. In addition, 50 Members of Congress similarly encouraged USDA to support business technical assistance. USDA responded to this request with its establishment of two new initiatives: the Regional Food Business Centers and the Farm Service Agency’s Increasing Land, Capital, and Market Access Program. Most recently, a national coalition of 141 agricultural organizations, service providers, non-profits, businesses, lending institutions, and government entities sent a letter to leadership of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on March 22 calling for Congress to build on USDA’s investments by providing dedicated funding for business technical assistance and farm viability in the upcoming Farm Bill.
Business technical assistance (BTA) covers a wide range of one-to-one services offered to farm and food businesses by nonprofit organizations, state agencies, private consultants, and extension services. Customized to meet the unique needs of individual businesses, these services include coaching, skill development, and planning related to financial and labor management, marketing and business strategies, farm transfer and succession, and access to land and capital. BTA has proven effective at creating jobs and supporting local economies. One state program found that two years of business planning support helped businesses generate a 62 percent increase in net income and add jobs at a rate three times that of the sector on average.