A Time to Act
A 30-member National Commission on Small
Farms was appointed by the Secretary of Agriculture
in July 1997 to examine the status of small
farms in the United States and to determine
a course of action for USDA to recognize,
respect, and respond to their needs. Four
regional public hearings and three smaller
regional meetings were held in 1997.
The Commission's work in capturing and analyzing
the testimony of farmers and ranchers is
embodied in 146 recommendations in the January
1998 "A Time To Act: A Report of the
USDA National Commission on Small Farms,” which
sets in motion a course of action for USDA
in developing policies and programs that
better met the needs of small farmers and
The report establishes
eight policy goals:
- Recognize the importance and cultivate
the strengths of small farms.
- Create a framework of support and responsibility
for small farms.
- Promote, develop, and enforce fair, competitive,
and open markets for small farms.
- Conduct appropriate outreach through
partnerships to serve small farm and ranch
- Establish future generations of farmers.
- Emphasize sustainable agriculture as
a profitable, ecological, and socially
sound strategy for small farms.
- Dedicate budget resources to strengthen
the competitive position of small farms
in American agriculture.
- Provide just and humane working conditions
for all people engaged in production agriculture.
To achieve these goals, the Report offered
dozens of recommendations. Two key ones involved:
- An official description of small farms.
- The development of a Department-wide
USDA Small Farm and Ranch Policy that encompasses
the vision and guiding principles set forth
by the Commission.
The Commission's recommended description
of small farms—“farms with
less than $250,000 gross receipts annually
on which day-to-day labor and management
are provided by the farmer and/or farm family
that owns the production or owns, or leases,
the productive assets”— is
a milestone in recognizing small farms' importance
and uniqueness. This description set in motion
a new way of thinking about small farms'
contributions to American agriculture, as
did the Commission's recommendation that
small farm policy should recognize that small-scale
as well as large-scale agriculture should
be models for agricultural production in
The Commission recognized that small farms
should be a major focus of USDA since they
possess a unique potential to produce not
only foodstuffs but also a variety of economic,
social, and environmental goods.
On September 8, 1999, the policy of USDA
regarding the importance and role of small
farms, ranches, and woodlots to the United
States became a Departmental
NIFA and other USDA agency representatives
meet monthly to gather ideas about and share
progress reports about how they are involved
in meeting Commission recommendations. A
progress report, called “Building
On A Time to Act: A Report by the USDA Advisory
Committee on Small Farms,” issued
in February 2003, distills progress made
to date by the USDA in implementing sections
of the National Commission on Small Farms
Report, “A Time to Act,” and
responding to recommended priorities abstracted
from written testimonies and public hearings
from America's farmers and ranchers.
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