New USDA Protection Available for Specialty Crop Growers

The US Department of Agriculture announced last week that new added protections are available for fruit, vegetable and specialty crop growers under the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. The new options were built into the 2014 Farm Bill and are meant to specifically address natural disasters that impact specialty crops.

The USDA’s press release further explained:

“Previously, the program offered coverage at 55 percent of the average market price for crop losses that exceed 50 percent of expected production. Producers can now choose higher levels of coverage, up to 65 percent of their expected production at 100 percent of the average market price.”

To learn more about the program, you can visit this Web tool created by the USDA in partnership with Michigan State University and the University of Illinois.

Finding USDA grant and loan opportunities

The most difficult form of aid for farmers to reach is by way of funding. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and many of its associated agencies have grant and loan opportunities available for farmers. Check out the programs below to see if any are right for you, and get those applications in before it’s too late.

Rural Development:

Rural Energy for America Program

Eligibility:

  • Agricultural producer or rural small business
  • Additional restrictions may apply

This program is intended to help “install renewable energy systems such as solar panels or anaerobic digesters, make energy efficiency improvements such as installing irrigation pumps or replacing ventilation systems, and conduct energy audits and feasibility studies.” There are three grant or loan programs under the Rural Energy for America Program including The Renewable Energy System and Energy Efficiency Improvement Guaranteed Loan and Grant Program, The Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistance Grant Program and The Feasibility Studies Grant Program.

National Resources Conservation Services Financial Assistance Programs: 

Environmental Quality Incentives Program

Eligibility:

  • Control or own eligible land
  • Comply with adjusted gross income limitation provisions
  • Be in compliance with the highly erodible and wetland conservation requirements
  • Develop a National Resources Conservation Services Environmental Quality Incentives Program plan of operations

This program is intended to provide support for producers and landowners working to “deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation or improved or created wildlife habitat.”

Conservation Stewardship Program

Eligibility:

  • Control or own eligible lands
  • Agree to meet or exceed stewardship threshold for at least one additional priority resource concern by end of contract
  • Additional restrictions may apply

Funding from the Conservation Stewardship Program is meant to support producers in the maintenance and improvement of conservation systems and activities. Payments are made based on “conservation performance.”

Agricultural Management Assistance Program

Eligibility:

  • A producer in one of the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia or Wyoming
  •  Own or control eligible lands
  • Agree to implement and maintain conservation practices for the life of the practice

This program is designed to assist producers with conservation as a means to manage risk and address resource issues.

Farm Service Agency Loans:

Click here to find your local Farm Service Agency.

Farm Operating Loans and Microloans

What it’s for: Livestock and feed; farm equipment; fuel, farm chemicals, insurance and other operating costs, including family living expenses; minor improvements or repairs to buildings; refinance certain farm-related debts, excluding real estate

Farm Ownership Loans

What it’s for: Purchase farmland; construct and repair buildings; make farm improvements

Emergency Farm Loans

What it’s for: Restore or replace essential property; pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year; pay essential family living expenses; reorganize the farming operation; refinance certain debts, excluding real estate.

Rural Youth Loans

What it’s for: These loans are designed to support individual youths in their projects through 4-H clubs, FFA or other like-minded organizations. These loans can be used to fund the purchase of livestock, seed equipment and supplies; the purchase, rent or repair of needed tools and equipment; operating expenses for the project.

Note that some Farm Service Agency loans are appropriated to assist minority or women farmers and beginning farmers and ranchers.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grants Available to Individuals:

Agriculture Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

Application Deadline: 4/28/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The purpose of the grant is to expand on research and analysis of sustainable agricultural practices in rural areas.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

Application Deadline: 4/28/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Its purpose is to discover innovative ideas strategies to sustainably improve the quality of rural life and/or agricultural production.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Animal Health and Production and Animal Products

Application Deadline: 5/1/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Applicants of this grant should intend to tackle an area of the Program Area Priorities in the Animal Health and Production and Animal Products. For more information and a complete description click on the link above.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Food Security

Application Deadline: 6/12/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The grant is designed to support projects that develop and enhance “sustainable, integrated management strategies that reduce pre and post-harvest losses caused by diseases, insects and weeds in crop and animal production systems.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Critical Agricultural Research and Extension

Application Deadline: 8/7/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Its intent is to immediately implement solutions related to critical problems behind efficient production through partnerships among “researchers, extension experts and producers.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Dual Purpose with Dual Benefit: Research in Biomedicine and Agriculture Using Agriculturally Important Domestic Species

Application Deadline: 9/24/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

The purpose of this funding is to “utilize agriculturally important domestic species to improve human health and animal agriculture through the advancement of basic and translational research deemed highly relevant to both agricultural and biomedical research.”

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program: Exploratory

Application Deadline: 9/30/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

Funding is intended to enhance “innovative ideas” that will place the US in the forefront of the worldwide agricultural industry.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational Program

Application Deadline: 9/30/2014

Eligibility:

  • 1862 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1890 Land-Grant Institutions
  • 1994 Land-Grant Institutions
  • For-profit Organizations Other Than Small Businesses
  • Hispanic-Serving Institutions
  • Individuals
  • Native American Tribal Orgs, not Federally recognized Tribal Governments
  • Nonprofits with 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Nonprofits without 501(c)(3) IRS status, other than Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Other or Additional Information (See below)
  • Private Institutions of Higher Ed
  • Small Business
  • State Agricultural Experiment Stations
  • State Controlled Institutions of Higher Ed

This program is to support grants in one of six Agriculture and Food Research Initiative priority areas, which include: “Plant Health and Production and Plant Products; Animal Health and Production and Animal Products; Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health; Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, and Environment; Agriculture Systems and Technology; and Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities.”

 This information was taken from the USDA website. For more information visit: http://1.usa.gov/1hTfobz

 

Organic industry on the rise

The organic industry is on the rise in the United States. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new research showing the number of certified organic producers in the country grew to 18,513, a staggering 245 percent increase in the past twelve years. Now a $35 billion industry, consumer demand for organic products has also seen a dramatic increase.

The USDA is taking heed and expanding its support for certified organic and sustainable producers with new and enhanced programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained in a press release. These new programs are designed to help organic producers in an array of areas through increased crop insurance opportunities, expanded exemptions for producers paying into a commodity “check-off” program and $11.5 million in annual funding directed toward reimbursing up to 75 percent of organic certification costs.

These programs will additionally provide support to research initiatives surrounding the organic industry. The Farm Bill now includes $20 million annually dedicated to organic research, agricultural extension programs and education with an additional $5 million toward data collection. These new provisions also benefit consumers, with $5 million in funding for the National Organic Program to provide updated information about organic producers in the nation.

For more information about USDA resources available to organic farmers, visit the USDA Organics Resource page here: http://1.usa.gov/1hONn1R

Crowdfunding: What is it and how can it help?

What is crowd-sourced funding?

Crowd-sourced funding, or crowdfunding, is a new way for individuals or organizations to raise money online. There are different websites that offer crowdfunding services, each of which typically request a percentage of the money raised. Here’s how it works: someone posts a campaign to the website and individuals that support it can donate funds directly. Usually, the users need to give benchmark rewards to those that donated based on the donation amount. The concept has taken the Internet by storm in recent years as new websites and campaigns continue to grow.

While the Internet and agriculture may seem worlds apart, there are many farmers and agricultural innovators that have successfully raised tens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars through these crowdfunding sites. Take, for example, the Mano Farm in Ojai, California. The farmers posted their campaign to Kickstarter in an attempt to raise money to offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares to low-income families. 46 individuals donated to the cause to help the farmers raise $10,000 for their campaign. Other farmers have been successful in raising money to build new infrastructure, develop new innovative tools, implement more sustainable practices and even save a farm from foreclosure.

Platforms:

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is one of the most well known crowd-sourced funding platforms today. Individuals post their campaigns through an optional video submission, pictures and a written story detailing their cause. The project requires a set timeline and funding goal. If the goal is not reached, the individual is not permitted to keep any of the money raised. If the goal is surpassed in the given amount of time, the individual is able to keep the extra funds to put toward the cause. Just in 2013 over $480 million was pledged toward campaigns on the site.

Farm Aid’s sister website, HOMEGROWN.org, is a curator on Kickstarter. As a curator, campaigns working to make innovative or sustainable strides in food or farming are carefully chosen and added to the HOMEGROWN Kickstarter page.

Indie GoGo

Indie GoGo is another popular crowdfunding site very similar to Kickstarter. It is different in that even if someone does not meet his or her goal, that individual is still able to keep all of the funds raised. It is free to sign up and create a campaign on Indie GoGo, but the percentage that the site keeps is dependent upon whether or not the initial goal is reached. There are no guidelines as to what a person’s campaign can be for, so anyone can raise money for their cause.

GoFundMe

GoFundMe is another crowdfunding site that allows a user to create a campaign for virtually any cause, even medical bills or livestock expenses. The site helps a user promote the campaign through social media channels like Facebook and Twitter for more widespread exposure. Like IndieGoGo, users can keep all of the donations even if the goal is not met. A percentage of the funds raised is automatically deducted from the donations, but the percentage remains the same even if the user does not meet the initial campaign goal.

RocketHub

RocketHub is another very similar model in that users can create campaigns surrounding nearly any project topic. Users are able to keep the funds they raise even if it does not meet a goal. The site is partnered by A&E, creating unique media exposure opportunities for users. Depending on the project, there is even the opportunity for A&E to fund campaigns.

The Western Center for Risk Management Education offers funding opportunities

The Western Center for Risk Management Education is accepting funding applications for strategic risk management projects that help farmers and ranchers. These federally funded grants will not exceed $50,000. The deadline for pre-proposals is December 12, 2013. Finalists will be informed by January 31, 2014 that they will need to submit a full proposal.

Two categories of proposals will be considered:

1. “2014 Exploratory Projects for planning, development, piloting efforts and/or smaller producer education programs with awards up to $2,000 and;

2. 2014 Education Projects with awards up to $50,000.”

The Washington State University Extension will host an applicant webinar on Friday, November 8 at 1 pm EST here. To learn more about applying for 2014 funding, view or download the RFI document by clicking here. Before applying, click here to read the Extension Risk Management Education’s pre-proposal tutorial.

Government shutdown hits America’s farmers

Just as national parks and Veterans face serious setbacks, family farmers too continue to struggle under the weight of the government shutdown in Washington. As the Rural Advancement Foundation International’s Scott Marlow estimates, the delay in budget approval by congress may cost up to 1,400 farmers their farms.

This is a direct result of the sudden lack of funding funneling to farmers, as 1,423 are left waiting for the direct farm operating loans that they were already approved for. What’s more, over 2,000 beginning farmers are waiting for direct farm ownership loans and over 1,000 wait for guaranteed operating loans.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle farmers face in light of the shutdown. Farmers struggle to predict market trends without the agricultural reports typically released weekly by the National Agriculture Statistics Service under the USDA. Many farmers depend on these figures to determine the price of their crops, when to sell commodity crops and cattle auction prices. Not only are they now left without new figures, but also the websites that contained old data are down until the shutdown ends.

The domestic hog market in particular is affected by the shutdown, as traders increasingly back away from the $97 billion market. With no clear end in sight, the lean hogs futures dropped 47 percent immediately following the beginning of the shutdown.

These issues come among a slew of other problems related to food and farming, including the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s inability to monitor foodborne illnesses throughout the remainder of the shutdown. In the span of the shutdown thus far, 278 illnesses from chicken contaminated with Salmonella were reported in 18 different states. Though it is suspected the outbreak comes directly from Foster Farms, the US Department of Agriculture cannot conduct a proper investigation during the Congressional delays.

Congress was warned of the challenges a shutdown would create. Now family farmers are left waiting at a time when some farmers are also facing devastating weather conditions, such as the flooding in Colorado and the deadly blizzard that swept across South Dakota. For now, the only thing for certain is this shutdown will have a lasting impact on America’s family farmers.

USDA Announces Specialty Crop Block Grants

The USDA will provide $52 million in grants supporting specialty crop producers in the U.S. Under the 2013 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, 54 grants will fund 694 initiatives assisting fruit and vegetable producers, as well as markets for other specialty crops.

These grants are intended to help initiatives including creating organic and sustainable practices, pest and disease control, and increasing food safety, among others.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack underscored how investments like these will act to strengthen rural communities by supporting both local markets and public access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Click here for more information about these grants.

USDA Research Grants for Small and Mid-Size Farms – Due September 26

If you have a research project that promotes and improves the sustainability and profitability of a small or midsized farm or ranch, you can apply for funding through the USDA Small Business Innovation Research Program. In your application, make sure to emphasize how the project can benefit rural communities and other farmers, and how the information will be shared among the small farm community. Awards range from $70,000 to $100,000.

Applications are due September 26th, 2013. Click here for full grant details and here to fill out an application. For more information, contact Charles Cleland at ccleland@nifa.usda.gov.

Conservation Stewardship Program Deadline Extended to June 14

The deadline for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has been extended to June 14th, 2013. The CSP is a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that aims to protect natural resources and the environment on land in agricultural production. This program supplies farmers and ranchers with the tools they need—both technical and financial—to employ conservation activities on their land, as well as support existing projects. This year the NRCS’ goal is to accept 12 million acres into the program.

For more information about CSP, visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s CSP factsheet and their Farmer’s Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program, where information about eligibility, step-by-step enrollment guidance, and helpful hints can be found.

USDA Announces Rural Business Opportunity Grants

The USDA’s Rural Development Agency is now considering applications for Rural Business Opportunity Grants. While these grants are not for farmers specifically, they can be used for programs that help farmers and encourage business and employment in rural communities. The Rural Development Agency is offering these grants in the hopes they will bring about a resurgence of jobs in rural areas.

The following groups are eligible: public entities, nonprofits, institutions of higher education, Indian tribes on Federal or State reservations, and rural cooperatives.

Up to $2.6 million is available for projects. Before June 30, 2013, $919,820 has been explicitly allocated to American Indian tribes, and $790,303 reserved for Rural Economic Area Projects. After June 30th $790,303 will be available—unreserved—for a variety of projects. The maximum grant award is $100,000.

Applications deadlines are as follows: Paper applications must either be hand delivered to a Rural Development field office, or postmarked by June 28, 2013. USDA must receive electronic applications no later than midnight June 24, 2013. Click here to submit an electronic application.

Visit the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s website to learn about the 2012 projects that received Rural Business Opportunity Grants.

For more information call the Rural Business-Cooperative Service at the USDA at: 202-720-7558, or click here.