Agricultural Research and Extension Programs To Aid Small Farmers

CED-81-18: Published: Oct 17, 1980. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 1980.

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Various guidelines have been suggested for defining a small farm. One definition is that a small farmer has gross sales from farming of $20,000 or less per year. The Department of Agriculture definition includes all farm families: whose family net income from all sources (farm and nonfarm) is below the median metropolitan income of the State; who depend on farming for a significant portion, though not necessarily a majority, of their income; and whose family members provide most of the labor and management. Information and technology for farmers are provided by State agricultural experiment stations and land-grant colleges. Small-farm research and extension programs were authorized, but never funded, for rural development research and education and small-farm research and extension.

The Director of the Department of Agriculture's Science and Education Administration (SEA) contended that much agricultural research and extension work is size neutral, benefiting both large and small farmers. Funding requested for small-farm programs could cause potential duplication. Land-grant universities could redirect funds from other areas into small-farm research and extension activities. The estimated funding level for fiscal year 1980 of research and extension directed at small farms is estimated as $58.8 million. In a 1975 report, GAO concluded that many small-farm operators could be helped to increase their incomes through more extension and research programs oriented to the specific, known needs of small-farm operators. Although the focus on small farms has increased, more remains to be done. Increased funding has been recommended. It appears that the benefits from such programs are positive, both in terms of returns to individual small-farm families and in social terms. The Department of Agriculture has the flexibility to award grants for priority research projects, and such projects could include small-farm projects. Agricultural research has generally been underfunded in recent years and could be redirected. Large-scale enterprises have been the principal beneficiaries of agricultural research and extension in the farm sector. The reason for the lack of expansion of State programs to assist small scale farmers seems to be a lack of funds. The Department of Agriculture may only encourage, not direct, research areas undertaken in cooperation with the States.

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