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As Costs Rise, Opportunities Dwindle for NC Small Farmers

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Monday, March 28, 2022   

Advocates for small farms and ranches in North Carolina say the businesses are ready to bring local, affordable meats and produce to residents, but they need more resources.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said shoppers will be paying 3% to 4% more for food this year, and about 6% more to eat out. So, the focus is on local, sustainable agriculture to help meet the need.

B. Ray Jeffers, a North Carolina-based farmer and policy and program manager for the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA (RAFI-USA), said to reliably feed communities, small farmers need more access to processing and storage facilities, and transportation options.

"Anyone establishing a new business has hurdles to overcome," Jeffers acknowledged. "But when you toss in unhelpful government policies, access to land prices, unaffordable capital and physically demanding work into the mix, a new level of challenge shows itself."

He pointed out rising supply and equipment costs are further squeezing the agricultural industry. Fertilizer costs have more than doubled since last year, driven by the global instability caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, plus high global demand, and lack of competition among fertilizer producers, according to the USDA.

Jeffers added groups like RAFI-USA can help small farmers navigate the complexities of federal policies and programs.

"You know, farmers are often beholden to the political machine of government wheeling and dealing," Jeffers observed. "The final version of the U.S. Farm Bill is a huge part of that. And it's not always good news for farmers working in sustainable agriculture."

He added the USDA recently announced $130 million in funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program, to expand opportunities for farmers to sell their products at major local institutions, like universities and hospitals.

Jeffers explained the average cost of farmland in the U.S. also has increased, adding another obstacle for small-scale producers.

"But in terms of stability and longevity to the farm business, ownership remains the goal for most farmers," Jeffers emphasized. "And the major barrier to owning land is, you know, the affordability gap."

Of the 45,000 farms in North Carolina, about two-thirds are less than 100 acres in size.

Disclosure: The Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Environmental Justice, Rural/Farming, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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