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.

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).

USDA Farm To School Grant Program Announced

Earlier this month, USDA announced the Farm to School Grant Program. The purpose of the program is to assist in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. On an annual basis, USDA awards up to $5 million in competitive grants for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs.

Farmers and ranchers are eligible for certain categories of grant awards. In this funding round, USDA is soliciting applications for three types of grants:

  1. Planning grants are intended for school districts or schools just starting to incorporate farm to school program elements into their operations.
  2. Implementation grants are intended for school districts or schools to help scale or further develop existing farm to school initiatives.
  3. Support Service grants are intended for state and local agencies, Indian tribal organizations, agricultural producers or groups of agricultural producers, and non-profit entities working with school districts or schools to further develop existing farm to school initiatives and to provide broad reaching support services to farm to school initiatives.

Proposals are due at midnight EST, April 24, 2013. In all cases, a 25% cash or in-kind match of the total project cost is required.

For all questions pertaining to the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, please email: farmtoschool@fns.usda.gov.

  • An upcoming webinar for those interested in learning more about the Support Service Grants will be held Thursday, March 7, 1:00 p.m. EST. Both an Internet connection and telephone line are required to see and hear the webinar.
  • Access the webinar by clicking here.
  • Phone: 888-396-9185 Passcode: 3927574

Apply Now for Grants from the FruitGuys Community Fund

The FruitGuys Community Fund, a nonprofit project established by the FruitGuys national fruit distribution company, will fund sustainability projects for small to mid-sized community farms. Grants of $2,500 – $5,000 will be awarded to 5 – 8 small farms, with a focus for the 2013 cycle on farms in Northern California or the Delaware Valley. Projects should focus on one of three areas:

  • Pest control (e.g., owl or bat boxes)
  • Pollination (e.g., beehives or hedgerows)
  • Soil health (e.g., cover crops or hoop houses)

The goal of the Community Fund is to help farms and orchards operate more sustainably, both environmentally and economically. For more information on how to apply (by the March 1st deadline), visit: http://fruitguyscommunityfund.org/apply

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.

Organic Farming Research Foundation Accepting Grant Proposals

Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), in partnership with Seed Matters, is now accepting grant proposals for research or education and outreach projects in organic seed quality or crop breeding innovation through November 19, 2012.

OFRF will consider funding for research projects in topics, including, but not limited to:

  • Systems approaches to managing seed-borne diseases;
  • Developing seed treatments compliant with the organic standards;
  • Participatory plant breeding activities;
  • Developing strategies for maintaining integrity of organic seed.

Education and outreach proposals will be accepted for the development of interactive educational materials, activities and media for:

  • Effective seed treatments allowable under the organic standards;
  • Maintaining seed quality during processing and handling;
  • Small-scale seed harvesting, drying, and processing methods;
  • On-farm or participatory breeding and selection methods.

Grant applicants in Canada, Mexico and the United States are eligible for funding up to $15,000.00. Proposals may be submitted online, and funding decisions will be made in March 2013. For guidance in writing and submitting your proposal, contact OFRF at grants@ofrf.org, or (831) 426-6606.