USDA has tools to help producers grow their businesses and build new markets for their products both at home and abroad. These programs can support producers as they begin producing value-added products like pickles or jam, export their product overseas, or connect with their neighbors at a local farmers market or school.
Value-Added Producer Grants
The Value-Added Producer Grant program can help farmers and ranchers develop new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increase producer income through the creation of value-added products.
Seasonal High Tunnels
Seasonal High Tunnels provide revenue opportunities for small and mid-sized farmers while also promoting conservation. They can extend the growing season, allowing more time for local marketing of produce and increasing sustainability while lowering energy and transportation inputs.
Local and Regional Food Systems
USDA provides many resources for new farmers who are interested in producing and marketing local food, organized under the Local and Regional Food Working Group, including:
- A list of USDA grants and loans to help farmers and food businesses selling locally.
- Tools and resources related to local and regional food systems—from USDA and our federal partners.
- The Local Food Compass Map, a guide and map to help you navigate USDA resources for local food systems. Search the map by keyword to find exciting projects supported by USDA around the country that are related to your topic of interest, or find farmers markets, food hubs, and meat processing facilities near you.
Accessing and Growing Farmers Markets and Other Local Food Opportunities
The USDA National Farmers Market Directory helps producers and consumers find farmers markets. Farmers Market Managers enter data about a market's location, hours, accepted forms of payment, and more.
The new USDA Local Food Directories will help producers and consumers locate additional local food outlets, specifically on-farm markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, and food hubs. Managers and owners can now enter business information in the new directories.
The Farmers Market Promotion Program helps improve and expand domestic farmers markets, roadside stands, CSAs, agri-tourism activities, and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing opportunities. From starting up mobile markets to helping new farmers and ranchers, these grants create new economic opportunities and encourage consumers to eat healthier.
The Local Food Promotion Program supports the development and expansion of local and regional food business enterprises to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations that serve local markets. Planning and implementation grants help support food hubs and other elements of a strong local food system.
Farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers are eligible to apply as retailers to redeem Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from recipients. Becoming authorized to accept SNAP is a win-win for both the farmer and the customer—SNAP recipients gain access to healthier and fresher foods, and farmers and markets increase both their customer base and their sales. Funding may be available for some markets and direct-marketing farmers for the purchase of wireless equipment. To see if you qualify and/or begin the application process, please visit http://www.marketlink.org
- Co-ops 101: An Introduction to Cooperatives (PDF, 5.3MB)
- How to Start a Cooperative (PDF, 441KB)
- Vital Steps: A Cooperative Feasibility Study Guide (PDF, 330KB)
- Running A Food Hub: Lessons learned from the field - Vol. 1 (PDF, 596KB)
- Running A Food Hub: A business operations guide - Vol. 2 (PDF, 406KB)
- Running A Food Hub: Assessing financial viability - Vol. 3 (PDF, 1.4MB)
Developing Export Capacity
Exporting can be a valuable tool for new and beginning farmers to build product markets, grow and expand businesses, and diversify revenue streams. USDA, working with and through our partners, can help new and beginning farmers develop export capacity and product markets abroad. At the industry/commodity and state level, USDA has formed over 70 partnerships with nonprofit U.S. agricultural trade associations (USDA Cooperators), which represent most agricultural products. USDA also supports four State Regional Trade Groups (SRTGs). These organizations were created to share the costs of overseas market development, export promotion, market research, consumer promotions, technical assistance, and trade servicing.
The first stop for new farmers and ranchers is "New to Exporting? Start Here.“ This site links to the Foreign Agriculture Service, its partners, and a variety of resources to get started. For those ready to enter the world of exporting, USDA has in place key partnerships that will help beginning farmers and ranchers explore export opportunities through activities like trade missions, reverse buyer missions, trade leads, and trade shows highlighted on their web sites. These venues are important opportunities to build overseas customer bases for products, exposure for farm and ranch businesses, and exporting networks.
National Organic Program
Organic certification is a valuable resource for small producers and businesses as it can increase producer returns. All USDA programs serve organic producers, and there is a new, one-stop shop for all USDA programs and information related to organic agriculture.
Organic certification verifies that a farm or handling facility complies with the organic regulations and allows producers to sell, label, and represent their products as organic.
Specific information on organic regulations, enforcement, international trade, and other related topics are all found on the web page for the National Organic Program.
Organic Cost Share Assistance
Organic producers and handlers can be reimbursed for as much as 75 percent of the costs for their organic certification, up to a maximum of $750 annually per certification scope. Through the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program, $1.5 million is available to organic operations in 16 States. Through the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, $11.5 million is available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories.
Tools for Small and Mid-sized Livestock and Poultry: USDA Resources for Producers and Processors
If you are a small or mid-sized livestock or poultry producer or processor or a retailer, community leader or local government interested in new opportunities for smaller-scale producers and businesses, USDA has resources available.
Grading, Certification, and Verification
The Agricultural Marketing Service's quality grade standards and its independent third-party, grading, certification, auditing, inspection, and laboratory analysis services are voluntary tools producers can use to help promote and communicate quality and wholesomeness to consumers. These standards and services can help new farmers be more competitive in the evolving marketplace and access new market opportunities.
For example, the USDA Process Verified Program provides companies that supply agricultural products or services the ability to assure customers that they provide consistent quality products or services by allowing participants to use a "USDA Process Verified" marketing shield that authenticates the marketing claims.
AMS grading services cover commodities from eggs to beef to fruits and vegetables. Many consumers are familiar with the "USDA Prime" and "USDA Choice" beef grades and recognize the value represented by the grade shields. Recently, AMS launched a grass-fed beef certification program specifically tailored to meet the needs of small and very small producers.
AMS fruit and vegetable audits for Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices can help producers access commercial markets by verifying that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled, and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.
AMS even administers export certification and verification programs, which help producers meet foreign buyer requirements and access foreign markets—for beef, dairy, eggs, pork, animal feed, and more.
Farm to School
Schools across the country are increasingly interested in buying lunchroom products from local or regional producers, and schools are often a good market for new farmers. Farm-to-school grants and technical assistance can help link farmers to schools. USDA can help you learn more about selling to local schools by providing guidance and technical assistance, as well as results from our Farm to School Census showing the products schools are buying now and those they would like to buy in the future.
Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program
The Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan program offers low-interest financing to producers interested in developing infrastructure such as processing facilities and food hubs.
Federal Grant of Inspection
For new farmers interested in producing a meat, poultry, or egg product, a Federal Grant of Inspection will enable you to sell your product in interstate commerce for resale.
Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)
The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides grants and loan guarantees for agricultural producers and small businesses in rural areas to purchase, install and construct energy-efficiency measures or produce on-farm renewable energy resources such as solar panels.