Earlier this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced new grants available for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The grants, which set out to aid small, disadvantaged farms and cooperatives, will primarily go to rural areas and are designed to stimulate job growth.
In part, these grants appear to be an effort to rebuild the USDA’s reputation in the wake of several class action lawsuits against the organization. Over the past two decades, the USDA has been sued by a variety of minority groups, including African American, Native American, Hispanic, and female farmers, all of whom claimed they suffered from discriminatory lending practices. Over the past several years, the USDA has quietly settled these lawsuits and Vilsack has pledged to use his office to rebuild the connections between the USDA and minority and socially disadvantaged farmers across the country.
The various grants, subsumed under the USDA’s Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant Program, total about $3.5 million. Grants can be used for product improvement, business plan development, or economic development activities. The maximum grant per applicant is $200,000.
In announcing the new program, Vilsack stressed its potential impact on small farmers, stating, “The Obama Administration is working to help small-scale producers add profit and efficiency to their operations so they can grow, thrive and create jobs. These investments will provide small business owners with the assistance they need to serve their communities and train a new generation of rural Americans.”
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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer