Beginning Farmers: Additional Steps Needed to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of USDA Assistance Page: 2 of 48
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Accountability. Integrity. Reliability
Highlights of GAO-07-1130, a report to the
Chairman of the Committee on
Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, U.S.
Why GAO Did This Study
U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) programs have long
supported beginning farmers.
USDA generally defines a beginning
farmer or rancher as one who has
operated a farm or ranch for 10
years or less-without regard for
age-and who materially and
substantially participates in its
operation. USDA's Farm Service
Agency (FSA) makes and
guarantees loans for farmers who
cannot obtain commercial credit,
including beginning farmers. FSA
also reserves funds for beginning
farmers within its loan programs.
USDA's Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS)
provides higher conservation
payments for beginning farmers
through two of its conservation
programs. GAO reviewed the key
steps USDA has taken to help
beginning farmers and assessed the
department's actions to measure
the effectiveness of these steps.
GAO recommends that USDA
adopt a crosscutting, departmental
strategic beginning farmer goal that
identifies the desired outcomes for
its beginning farmer assistance and
links to related agency
performance goals. We also
recommend that USDA track
progress toward implementing
these goals. In commenting on a
draft of this report, USDA said it
generally agreed with our report
Additional Steps Needed to Demonstrate the
Effectiveness of USDA Assistance
What GAO Found
USDA's lending and conservation assistance to beginning farmers has been
substantial and is growing. USDA supports beginning farmers primarily
through its lending assistance. From fiscal years 2000 through 2006, FSA's
lending to beginning farmers rose from $716 million to $1.1 billion annually-
totaling more than $6 billion. In addition, from fiscal years 2004 through 2006,
the most recent years for which data are available, NRCS's annual financial
assistance for beginning farmers through two key conservation programs
nearly doubled from over $47 million to nearly $92 million, for a total of $233
However, USDA cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of its support for
beginning farmers, because it has not developed a crosscutting, departmental
strategic goal for its beginning farmer efforts and has only recently begun to
analyze the characteristics of this group. Specifically:
* USDA has not developed a crosscutting, departmental strategic beginning
farmer goal that demonstrates the outcomes it expects its beginning
farmer efforts to achieve. Such a goal might address, for example,
promoting demographic change, such as by decreasing the average age of
farmers or changes to the structure of agriculture, such as by increasing
the number of small and middle-sized farms. USDA has incorporated
beginning farmers into its existing policy for maintaining the viability of
small farms. Although this provides added recognition of the need to
assist beginning farmers, USDA's policy does not establish a crosscutting,
departmental strategic goal that provides a management and
accountability focus for the department's several efforts. Furthermore,
USDA tracks the numbers of farmers it assists and the dollars they
receive, rather than its progress toward achieving a particular beginning
farmer outcome. Having a crosscutting, departmental strategic goal could
provide better insight into the desired outcomes and impact of USDA's
beginning farmer efforts.
* USDA is just beginning to develop data about the characteristics of
beginning farmers to supplement its existing analyses about the age of
farmers and changes in the number of farms. For example, one recent
analysis shows that beginning farmers are younger than established
farmers, operate smaller farms, and are slightly more ethnically diverse
and female than other farmers. Another indicates that roughly one-third
of beginning farms in 2005 had no agricultural output and were likely
operated by individuals interested in a rural residential lifestyle.
Continued analysis of such characteristics and trends could provide better
insight into who beginning farmers are, which ones USDA assists, and
how beginning farmer operations change over time.
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on GAO-07-1130.
For more information, contact Lisa Shames,
202-512-3841, shamesl @ gao.gov.
,United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Beginning Farmers: Additional Steps Needed to Demonstrate the Effectiveness of USDA Assistance, report, September 18, 2007; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc297226/m1/2/: accessed January 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.