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

 

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 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.

Conservation Stewardship Program passes Congress — Apply Now!

In the first four enrollment years for CSP (2009-2012), more than 39,000 farmers and ranchers operating over 50 million acres of farm and ranch land that is now under five-year, renewable CSP conservation contracts. Annual CSP payments are currently $680 million a year!

The CSP is a working lands conservation program administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and available on a nationwide basis. CSP offers technical and financial assistance to farmers for adopting and maintaining high standards of resource conservation and environmental stewardship.  Assistance is geared to both the active management of existing conservation systems and for implementing new conservation activities on land in agricultural production.  Find the enrollment alert here!

Application forms are available at your local NRCS state offices and farmers should visit their local service center to sign up.  State offices will have information on priority resource concerns for your state and agents available to help farmers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has created an essential guide to help farmers learn how to apply for the CSP and includes a list of organizations that can assist with the application process.  The Land Stewardship Project has a useful and up-to-date fact sheet.

Available Funding for Rural Energy Programs

2013 funding is available for the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program from the USDA. This program gives financial assistance in form of loan guarantees and grants to farmers and rural small businesses for conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. Funds are also available for energy audits and assessments. Some eligible REAP projects include: solar panels, anaerobic digesters, installation of irrigation pumps or ventilation systems, as well as conducting energy audits and feasibility studies for such projects.

All grant and combination grant and loan proposals are due April 30th. Applications for feasibility studies are also due April 30th. Guaranteed loan applications (that don’t have a grant component) are due July 15th.

For more information about REAP, visit the USDA’s REAP portal, as well as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s REAP page.

Details on how to apply for REAP funding available in the Federal Register.

For help with the application process, contact National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Looking to Improve Animal Welfare on Your Farm? Apply for Fund-a-Farmer Grants!

The application period is open for the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) Fund-a-Farmer Project: a micro-grants initiative that assists farmers in improving animal welfare. The Fund-a-Farmer Project grants up to $1,500 for projects that (1) help farms transition to pasture-based systems, (2) improve the marketing of their humane products, or (3) more generally enrich the conditions in which farm animals are raised. Last year, FACT awarded $13,000 to nine farms across the country.

Working, independent family farmers who raise pigs, broiler chickens, laying hens, dairy cows and/or beef cattle are eligible to apply for any of the grants. Projects involving goats and sheep are only eligible for marketing grants. Apply online at www.fundafarmer.org. Applications are due by May 1, 2013, and grants will be awarded in August 2013.

USDA Announces New Micro-loan Program

The USDA has launched a new program that will provide micro-loans of up to $35,000 to small, beginning, and socially disadvantaged farmers. The program aims to help producers pay for start-up expenses (like hoop houses for season extension, essential tools, irrigation, delivery vehicles, etc.) and annual expenses (seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, marketing, and distribution costs). The USDA has purposely simplified the application process for this program, making it less burdensome in comparison to traditional federal farm loans.

If interested in applying for a loan, contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. For more information, see this fact sheet on the FSA’s website.

Hispanic & Women’s Discrimination Claims Process Now Open

The claims process for Hispanic & women farmers and ranchers claiming discriminatory FSA practices is now open. Farmers who faced discriminatory denials of farm loans or service assistance by the USDA between 1981 and 2000 can file their claims through March 25, 2013. This voluntary claims process offers an alternative to litigation and requires no fees or legal representation. At least $1.33 billion will be made available for awards and payments, and an additional $160 million will be available in farm debt relief to eligible farmers and ranchers. To register for a claims package, call 1-888-508-4429 or visit www.farmerclaims.gov.

Farm Aid’s partner, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives released Tips for Completing Claims Form for Hispanic and Women Farmers and Ranchers to assist farmers in the claims process. The guide provides in-depth explanations of each question on the USDA claims form and step-by-step instructions for how to answer and file properly. For direct assistance from the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, contact John Zippert, Director of Programs, at 205.652.9676 (johnzippert@federation.coop) or Mircha King, Lawsuit Legal Coordinator, at 800.503.5678 (mirchaking@federation.coop).

Another Farm Aid partner, the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (WFAN) will host a free webinar on January 8, 2013 at 11 AM EST/10 AM Central Time to address questions about eligibility and offer assistance in filing claims. Representatives from the Farmers Legal Action Group and Rural Coalition/Coalicion Rural will be presenting. The public is invited to log-in here, or access the archived webinar through WFAN after the event.