Val Dolcini, state executive director for USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) in California says his agency has continued to make great strides in reaching out to women, ethnic and minority farmers. As this past year’s lending data shows, California’s FSA staff has experienced significant success in making loans to socially disadvantaged producers.

“In loans, programs and services, everything we do is available for all applicants,” said Dolcini. “But for traditionally underrepresented population groups, FSA continues to focus on increased participation throughout California,” said Dolcini. FSA reserves a portion of its direct and guaranteed loan funds each year for eligible socially disadvantaged participants. These loan programs are designed to help farmers purchase and operate family size farms.

“In California, more than half of the loans FSA approved or 51.9 percent, were to minority or socially disadvantaged applicants this year,” according to Dolcini. FSA’s total California loan activity during Fiscal Year 2011 exceeded $119 million, with $53.4 million of those dollars reaching socially disadvantaged borrowers who applied and qualified for direct and guaranteed loans.

FSA defines a socially disadvantaged (SDA) farmer, rancher or agricultural producer as one of a group whose members have been subjected to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of his or her identity as a member of the group, without regard to his or her individual qualities. SDA groups are women, Blacks or African Americans, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders.

"With these loan and assistance programs, FSA hopes to help reverse the declining number of farmers and ranchers across the United States and especially here in California," said Dolcini. "These loans help to encourage and assist individuals to become owner / operators of their own farms and ranches, to participate in agricultural programs and to become integral members of the agricultural community."

USDA is currently extending their outreach efforts to inform Hispanic and women’s organizations about a streamlined claims adjudication process for those Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers who assert they experienced discrimination when seeking farm loans.  For those who would like further information or to receive a claims packet, call 1-888-508-4429 or visit www.farmerclaims.gov.

Applicants must meet the eligibility requirements for a given program before FSA can extend program benefits. For more information on these and other programs available through FSA, contact the Farm Service Agency at the local USDA Service Center or call 530-792-5520 or visit www.fsa.usda.gov.