A key to success at the California Department of Food and Agriculture is great partnerships, and one of our most important ones is with the USDA. We share a mission, we share knowledge, and we share resources as we work together to protect and promote our food supply and natural resources.
Several recent initiatives by the USDA are excellent examples of the value of this partnership. Secretary Tom Vilsack this week added seven California counties (Contra Costa, Glenn, Kings, Placer, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus) as primary natural disaster areas due to drought. Twenty-six other counties have been added as contiguous disaster counties. Each designation allows farmers to apply for emergency loan assistance from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. The FSA is a backbone of support for our farmers and has been for many decades.
An announcement last week by Secretary Vilsack is aimed at shoring up another area of great need – the next generation of farmers. The USDA provided more than $18 million in grants to organizations in 24 states, including California, that are working to support beginning farmers and ranchers with training and resources to help build their businesses. Secretary Vilsack wants to see 100,000 new farmers over the next few years, and CDFA and the State Board of Food and Agriculture are committed to doing all they can to help make that happen.
I have a lot of enthusiasm about this next project – the USDA Rural Development agency provided a grant to the California Financial Opportunities Roundtable to prepare a guidebook called Access to Capital. This is an essential tool for agriculture and rural communities and could provide funding pathways for concepts within regional food systems, for dairy digesters, and for water systems in communities that are impacted by nitrates. There is no other resource that so comprehensively identifies potential capital in these areas.
We could talk for months about the value of our partnership with the USDA. There are many, many other examples. We are very grateful for all that has been accomplished and look forward to greater achievements in the years ahead.