Research by the Center for Rural Affairs finds a lot of money spent for federal farm programs hasn’t done family farmers much good. Amanda Tuttle is a policy analyst with the Center, based in Lyons, Nebraska, and helped look over USDA money that was given to four programs aimed at doing ag research, marketing, and business development. Tuttle says the programs were the Rural Business Enterprise Grant, the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems, the Value-Added Producer grant, and the National Research Initiative. The money was to fund research, help start-up businesses, and create value-added products or projects. “A lot of it goes towards marketing strategies and providing staff in order to guide people in the right direction.” But when they tracked the money, the result was disappointing. Looking to see if the money was spent to benefit small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers, the researchers gave an average score of “D” for the list of 16 criteria they used to analyze the grants, things like marketing strategies, environmental costs, increasing technical costs for farmers, and “helping farmers just get onto the land.” Some programs that did score well had their money re-directed in the last couple years into other grant programs. In the years 2001 and 2002, there was 500-Million dollars appropriated for the four programs the researchers looked at…but it’s hard to say if much helped farmers. Of the total funding for projects they reviewed, only 23-million seems to have gone to agriculture-related projects. Tuttle adds “it’s not that the money is missing” — it’s that the difference between the 500-Million and the 23-Million is money that’s not going towards small and mid-sized farmers or any type of agriculture. The research was done by the Center for Rural Affairs in cooperation with Iowa State University Extension and the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
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