How Tribal Departments of Agriculture Benefit Native Producers

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How Tribal Departments of Agriculture Benefit Native Producers

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Disaster Planning

  • Native producers can benefit from enhanced emergency management planning and implementation provided by tribal departments of agriculture connecting with local operations to establish a network of local food growers.
  • Provide a centralized point of contact for third party assistance and for third-party interest in donating food/services.


  • Enact transparent food production legal standards to facilitate on reservation economic develop by providing regulatory certainty to Native producers.
  • Administer federally mandated trainings, such as produce safety certification required by the Food Safety Modernization Act, so that Native producers receive culturally appropriate educational content with considerations for traditional agriculture practices.

Market Facilitation and Credit Access

  • Facilitate new market pathways for Native producers by administering farmers market programs, allowing for food produced by Native producers to be directly marketed to the public.
  • Foster partnerships with local tribal schools to solidify a farm-to-school program, giving students nutritious locally sourced meals and ensuring a reliable customer base for Native foods producers.
  • Provide value-added training opportunities to reach new niche markets in food processing/packaging, branding/labeling, product enrichment, vertical integration, and operation diversification.
  • Much of Indian Country is located in credit deserts, which poses a significant obstacle for Native producers looking to access capital for their operations. Tribal departments of agriculture can help remedy this issue by serving as the home for Community Development Financial Institutions (CFDIs) located within a tribal government to serve Native producers.

Education and Youth Programming

  • Serve as a hub for youth agriculture programs, such as summer youth work positions and college internships placing students with local producers for experiential learning opportunities.
  • Curriculum development and outreach can provide culturally appropriate agricultural education and training opportunities for existing and beginning Native producers.

Natural Resources Management

  • Provide technical assistance to Native producers seeking to transition to more sustainable practices and sign up for federal conservation programs through the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service.
  • Set tribal priorities for land management decisions by creating agricultural resource management plans authorized under federal law, as well as administering forest and timber management self-determination contracts under the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Federal Program Administration and Passthroughs

  • Administer federal programs at the local level and provide competent and culturally appropriate roles in managing federal resources in ways that benefit Native producers at the ground level.
  • An example of these programs is the Self-Determination Demonstration Project for tribes who administer the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (“FDPIR”). Tribes utilizing this authority for their food procurement programs are able to source their own foods rather than relying on the federal procurement process, allowing for more local and traditional food procurement from Native producers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do Native producers need a tribal department of agriculture when their state of residence already has an established department of agriculture?

As residents of their home state, Native producers are often eligible for services from their state’s department of agriculture. Many tribal nations have robust partnerships with their state counterparts in serving Indian Country. However, tribal departments of agriculture can generally offer the same services as the state departments of agriculture while taking into account traditional practices and incorporating culturally appropriate training and outreach services. These departments are also more versed in the nuanced issues facing Indian Country, such as access to credit. This combination allows tribal departments of agriculture to serve Native producers in ways that state departments of agriculture often cannot.

How can Native producers be sure that a tribal department of agriculture will not create significant regulatory burdens for them?

Native producers may face some additional regulation from their tribal department of agriculture, this is often not the main focus of these entities because they are often charged with addressing the needs of producers in the forms of technical assistance, outreach, and training in addition to addressing needs specific to their constituency. If regulatory burdens are a concern, one must remember that the framework of tribal department of agriculture is a product of sovereignty being exercised. This allows tribal citizens and their leaders to be in the driver’s seat in determining the path of the department that will ultimately serve them.

Why would Native producers benefit from a tribal department of agriculture rather than letting stand-alone programs be located throughout the tribal government structure?

Native producers will ultimately benefit from a tribal department of agriculture over having many stand-alone programs throughout their tribal government because it will serve as a “one-stop-shop” for all their needs. Often times in tribal governments – especially the larger ones – one may have trouble locating the right resources for their specific need, which may not be the best when dealing with a time-sensitive problem. Access to a tribal department of agriculture allows for a streamlined effort in addressing the needs and inquiries from Native producers, allowing them to focus more on their livelihood rather than navigate administrative bureaucracy.

This document is strictly for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice nor create an attorney/client relationship


Posted on

June 7, 2023