The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) recently announced that its free online Market News service will now include reports on local and regional food markets. These reports, which are currently limited to a small number of states with more states expected to be added in the coming year, provide pricing and volume information to help producers tap into a growing $7 billion a year local and regional food market. The reports also allow farmers to develop more comprehensive business plans, thus improving their chances of obtaining financing and insurance products from USDA, local banks, and local businesses.

The Market News reports are the result of AMS implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, which specifically directed USDA agencies, including AMS, to launch a new local food production data collection and program evaluation initiative. This initiative is designed to provide farmers, ranchers, and marketers with the data they need in order to develop their businesses and better understand the impacts and effectiveness of programs supporting local and regional food systems.

This local food data and program evaluation initiative was initially developed in the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, championed by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME), along with several other co-sponsors. The inclusion of the initiative (Section 10016) in the 2014 Farm Bill, and now, the USDA implementation of the initiative, represents another victory for local and regional food systems and for NSAC in its 2014 Farm Bill campaign priorities.

Market News now includes the following new reports for farmers, agricultural businesses, and consumers to access and utilize:
  • Farmers Markets Reports list current commodity prices at a sample of individual farmers markets across various regions of the country
  • Farmers Auctions Reports provide the current commodity volume and prices at auctions
  • Direct to Consumer Reports capture the prices of commodities that farmers sell directly to consumers
Each of these new reports feature information from one or more of the following 10 pilot states: Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. Additional states are expected to be added in the coming year.

While this is an important first step in data collection and evaluation, Congress must work to ensure that adequate funding is available to enable the program to provide up-to-date information from a variety of direct and intermediated marketing outlets from all regions of the country. Currently, USDA Market News plans to expand the scope of the data by developing Farm-to-School, Food Hub, and Retail reports, but the breadth and depth of local data reporting will depend on available funding.

Since 1915, Market News has provided various stakeholders, from producers to consumers, with current price and sales information to assist in the marketing and distribution of farm commodities. In addition to prices, Market News provides reports on quality, condition, volume, and other market data for farm products in specific markets and marketing areas. The data are released within hours of collection, allowing producers and marketers to immediately see which commodities are in greatest demand and at which markets.