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Highlights

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..

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Agriculture To better ensure USDA can provide Congress and the public with information on the effectiveness of assistance to beginning farmers, the Secretary of Agriculture should develop a crosscutting, departmental strategic beginning farmer performance goal that identifies the desired outcomes of USDA's beginning farmer assistance and that links to related agency goals.
Closed - Not Implemented
USDA has taken initial steps to address this recommendation, but its efforts are not yet complete. Specifically, the 2008 Farm Bill authorized, and the Department subsequently established the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, and a Small Farms and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers group within it. This office has responsibility for developing and monitoring the goals and objectives of the Department with respect to beginning farmers and ranchers. It is seeking approval from OMB for a high-priority performance goal to measure USDA support to beginning farmers. If approved, the office plans to link this output-based, departmental goal to other agency goals and develop an index to track its performance. Additionally, the office has taken initial steps to develop a goal that identifies the desired outcomes of beginning farmer assistance and hopes to formalize this effort going forward.
Department of Agriculture To better ensure USDA can provide Congress and the public with information on the effectiveness of assistance to beginning farmers, the Secretary of Agriculture should track progress toward achieving the performance goals.
Closed - Not Implemented
USDA has taken initial steps to address this recommendation, but its efforts are not yet complete. Specifically, the 2008 Farm Bill authorized, and the Department subsequently established the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, and a Small Farms and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers group within it. This office has responsibility for developing and monitoring the goals and objectives of the Department with respect to beginning farmers and ranchers. It is seeking approval from OMB for a high-priority performance goal to measure USDA support to beginning farmers. If approved, the office plans to link this output-based, departmental goal to other agency goals and develop an index to track its performance. Additionally, the office has taken initial steps to develop a goal that identifies the desired outcomes of beginning farmer assistance and hopes to formalize this effort going forward.

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