The current meme affecting (infecting?) politics is that it’s wrong to take money from one group—ie, taxpayers—and hand it over to another group—ie, the beneficiaries of various federal programs.
There’s an argument to be made about the validity and viability of public sector programming, but in many cases, a small investment can yield valuable dividends not measured solely by bottom line returns.
One such program is the USDA’ Rural Development’s Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant Program. (But couldn’t they come up with a catchier name? “Socially disadvantaged?” Really? Isn’t that the guy who hangs back at the club because he’s too awkward to ask any girls to dance?)
According to the official USDA line, the goal of the program is to assist smaller producers, farmers and agricultural co-ops in rural areas as a means to support economic growth.
Survivability is more like it.
“The funding represents USDA's continuing investment in providing small business owners with the assistance they need to improve their business operations, and serve their communities by creating economic opportunity for residents and training new generations of rural Americans to succeed in business,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
For FY 2012, about $3 million in grants were authorized in the 2008 farm bill to ensure that rural communities have equal access to USDA programs and services. Funding for product improvements, business plan development or economic development activitiesis available to cooperatives where at least three-quarters of the board or members qualify as small, socially disadvantaged producers.
If the funding were $3 billion, rather than a mere $3 million, this program would be ripe for criticism as a handout, a counterproductive re-distribution of wealth that ultimately hurts the overall economy. I don’t agree with that interpretation, but the dollar amount is so small that neither the politicians nor the punditry really care to attack it.
It should be ten times as big.
That’s because without some support, without some funding to “jump start” projects that focus on agricultural diversity, heirloom crops and heritage breeds, there is no way smaller producers and growers can stay competitive. Along with increasing per-acre efficiency driven by technology—which requires capital most smaller producers don’t have—many producers and farmers can’t compete, and without a viable farm sector in the local area, the infrastructure, such as seed, feed and implement dealers, that’s needed to stay viable disappears.