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News Release

Farmers Face Steep Challenges in USDA Farm Loan Appeals Process, Report Says

Tuesday, March 12, 2024


Farmers who had been denied federal loans won only 17 percent of appeals in the USDA’s National Appeals Division, according to new analysis by the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law and Graduate School with partners Farm Aid and the Rural Advancement Foundation International.

The report analyzes National Appeals Division cases concerning direct farm ownership and farm operating loans between January 2009 and July 2022, spanning 14 years, three Farm Bills, and three presidents.

“USDA Farm Service Agency officers have significant discretion in approving or denying loans,” said Emily Spiegel, senior research fellow at the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems. “But these numbers show that initial process is incredibly important to get right, because farmers have little chance of getting a better outcome when they appeal.”

The report, “Appealing for Relief: An Analysis of Appealed Direct Farm Loan Decisions 2009-2022 and Opportunities for Reform,” shows that the agency has wide discretion that could lead to different outcomes for similarly situated farmers in the loan approval process.

It also reveals that farmers with innovative and nontraditional operations often face more barriers to a successful outcome. The Farm Service Agency may use inaccurate information to assess the feasibility of farm plans for these operations.

“The USDA is a lender of last resort, so often farmers have no other options,” said Spiegel.

Farmers who are successful in their appeals can often go through the appeals process and win, only to have their loan denied for an entirely separate reason. This can lead to successive appeals, prolonging the time that farmers wait for vital assistance.

Opportunities for reform exist at every step of the appeals process, authors say. “We are hopeful that USDA will improve the process for farmers, leading to fewer upheld denials, less opportunity for discrimination and unpredictable outcomes and more transparency,” said Jennifer Fahy, communications director at Farm Aid.


Vermont Law and Graduate School’s Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) uses law and policy to build a more sustainable and just food system. In partnership with local, regional, national, and international partners, CAFS addresses food system challenges related to food justice, food security, farmland access, farmworkers’ rights, animal welfare, worker protections, the environment, and public health, among others. CAFS works closely with its partners to provide legal services that respond to their needs and develop resources that empower the communities they serve. Through its Food and Agriculture Clinic, Summer Honors Intern program and Research Assistant program, students work directly on projects alongside partners nationwide, engaging in innovative work that spans the food system. Visit to learn more. 


Vermont Law and Graduate School, a private, independent institution, is home to a law school that offers ABA-accredited residential and online hybrid JD programs and a graduate school that offers master’s degrees and certificates in multiple disciplines, including programs offered by the Maverick Lloyd School for the Environment, the Center for Justice Reform and other graduate-level programs emphasizing the intersection of environmental justice, social justice and public policy. Both the law and graduate schools strongly feature experiential clinical and fieldwork learning. For more information, visit