DANSVILLE — A workshop to ensure rural America continues to be a great place to live, work, and foster economic opportunity was held last week at the North Dansville Town Hall.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Small Business Administration (SBA), New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and Office of US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand all were available to discuss funding programs currently available to farmers, producers, and rural businesses.

There were three branches of the USDA represented at the workshop, which included Rural Development (RD), Farm Service Agency (FSA), and Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS).

There was a lot of talk about the upcoming Farm Bill. A lack of information on the potential new Farm Bill is something that has many organizations concerned, so officials are asking farmers to give input on the changes they want to see.

According to the USDA website, they said they are working with legislation to: Provide a farm safety net that helps American farmers weather times of economic stress without distorting markets or increasing shallow loss payments; Promote a variety of innovative crop insurance products and changes, enabling farmers to make sound production decisions and to manage operational risk; Encourage entry into farming through increased access to land and capital for young, beginning, veteran and underrepresented farmers; Ensure that voluntary conservation programs balance farm productivity with conservation benefits so the most fertile and productive lands remain in production while land retired for conservation purposes favor more environmentally sensitive acres; Support conservation programs that ensure cost-effective financial assistance for improved soil health,water and air quality and other natural resource benefits.

FSA Farm Loan Manager Christen Trewer said they offer low interest loans to farmers just starting out or who are in a financial crisis.

“Our loans are mostly used to help people start farms. We help beginning farmers, under served or under privileged farmers, and farmers who are in a financial crisis and can’t get help anywhere else,” she said. “We are supervised credit, meaning we have a responsibility of credit counseling, and trying to get you back towards commercial credit. This means your commercial lender won’t give you money or has cut you off. This is especially tough with the dairy farmers.”

Trewer said their loans are fully secured, so whatever is provided will be a security for the loan. This also applies to cattle equipment property as long as there is 100 percent security.

Target funding goes towards the under served farmers like women and minorities.

“When you hear the government say they are out of funding or out of loans, typically the under served or disadvantaged farmers will get funding first,” Trewer said. “We have youth loans for anyone who brings their beef cattle to fairs for education purposes. We have some emergency loans available in the event of a (weather) disaster.”

FSA County Executive Director Dean Pendergast has been with the agency for over 33 years, and had a wealth of knowledge to share with the group.

Pendergast said the current Farm Bill covers from 2014 until 2018, and this is the last year many programs will be covered depending on the outcome of the new bill.

“We are working with the Farm Bill that covers from 2014 to 2018, and what happens next is up to congress on the bill they are currently working on,” he said. “I have no answers for that. There are currently over 47 programs we offer to our farmers.

“We want to make sure that any money we send to farmers across the nation are being good stewards of the land. You have to tell us about your farm,” he said. “Everything we do is reported as income, so we need to know the farm's structure.”

There are two basic programs that help with the wide spectrum of farming: Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage. These programs can be purchased until August, and after that the new bill might have something different planned.

NRCS District Conservationist JoBeth Bellanca talked about protecting wetlands and wildlife sanctuaries as well as keeping erosion from farmlands.

“It is nice because farmers come to us for help,” she said. “We work to address various problems like erosion and livestock storage safety. We also work on promoting good nutrients.

“What is unique about us is that we work with contracts to fix the environment, and we don’t get payments until it is installed,” Bellanca continued. “We do have incentives for farmers who pay upfront. We are very lucky in Livingston County to have farmers who want to do better.”

Rural Development Acting State Director Scott Collins talked about the benefits of his program, and how it can conserve energy.

“We fund programs to facilities and energy. Solar Panels are our most common source of energy. This is all for business use, and needs to be separate from the home,” he said. “We have also funded many wind projects. We use at least half of our funds on energy efficiency. This has been a very successful program that has funded millions of dollars.”

The new Farm Bill may bring on lots of budget issues to programs like this.

“People need to be able to match funds dollar for dollar. We need a defined plan, such as history of the farm, an output system, and a reasonable level of development,” Collins said. “We talk about the value of the production. Do you make cheese or yogurt? Do you use your fruit to make juices? Organic produce is the most common.”

As of late the most who use these resources are wineries in the local area. Most people no longer use grant writers, and don’t understand all of the programs they are missing out on.

“Our programs are based on the assumption of good agriculture, which needs a good community around it,” Collins said. “You see this used on a much larger scale. We also work on water and wastewater programs. We stay busy in Western New York with the water districts. These go from $30 million to $40 million.”

There are plenty of opportunities out there for low income families and the elderly as well. There are 440 projects with Rural Development in New York State alone.

SBA Branch Manager Virginia Smith said she learned a lot from the workshop, and what surprises people is that small business goes hand in hand with farming. There are experts who can work with farmers free of charge through the Small Business Administration. The SBA is often the first on the scene to help when a natural disaster hits the farmers.

“We do a lot of counseling and training. We talk about success in small business development. The Livingston County Chamber is a great place to go to get the word out,” Smith said. “We will get you to whoever you need to talk to in the field. Just in the past year we have supported thousands of jobs in the state.”

Smith added to make sure you know as much as you can about all of your local resources.

“We help you network with all of these experts, so we are like a one stop shop,” she said. “We also work with the federal government to guarantee funds. You need to know all of these things exist, because knowledge is power.”

NYSERDA Industrial and Agricultural Marketing Development Director Todd Baldyga focused on solar and wind energy at the workshop.

“Our mission is to advance and improve the state economy. We focus on providing information and technological assistance to reduce the risk in the marketplace,” he said. “The Agriculture Energy Audit is a free service that we have over 800 applicants requesting. This is a great value to farmers, and we want to continue it. We give you the next steps you need to move forward.”

Currently over 750 farmers are doing the New York Sun Program, which provides a solar panel farm. Energize New York is a huge program that requires the assistance of the county, and currently the Livingston County is not moving forward with this program.

For more information on any of these programs visit the following websites: https://www.usda.gov, https://www.sba.gov, and https://www.nyserda.ny.gov