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

 

Discovering the Agriculture Mediation Program

For most farmers, a dispute with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is an intimidating prospect. After all, the USDA is a large federal government agency, and some farmers can’t afford even basic legal services.

Enter the Agriculture Credit Act of 1987, which helped create Agriculture Mediation Programs in various states. Mediation is a free or low-cost alternative to legal action. While disputes can take years to resolve through legal action, mediation typically can be completed in a few sessions lasting hours. Thirty-eight states currently offer this type of program, and a federal mediation service is available to farmers located elsewhere.

How does a state obtain a certified USDA Agriculture Mediation Program?

Any state can apply to have a USDA certified Agriculture Mediation Program. An entity must first apply through the USDA in Washington, DC. This entity can be a university, a state department, a nonprofit or a company, but each faces a different set of conditions for compliance with the Code of Federal Regulations. The application process is extensive and requires a letter of recommendation from the state’s governor or the head of another appointed agency. If a state would like to apply, the governor or designated state agency official must notify a Farm Service Agency administrator on August 1.

If an applying institution passes the initial screening, its employees go through training and education administered by the federal Agriculture Mediation Program under the USDA. Once the training is complete and the institution has been approved to become an official USDA-recognized Agriculture Mediation Program, it must submit annual reporting to the USDA.

A certified Agriculture Mediation Program receives grant funding from the USDA equaling up to 70 percent of the program’s budget for covered cases. Coverage extends to cases involving agricultural loans, agricultural credit and adverse decisions by a USDA agency.

How can mediation help?

When someone faces an adverse USDA decision, that person may be offered mediation as an option under the Department’s informal appeals process. An individual can also contact a mediation program directly if he or she thinks it is a viable option. Mediation is entirely confidential, and no documents created during the process can be used in any legal action that might follow. Both parties are prepared by the mediator in advance of the mediation session. This may include financial counseling, acquiring proper documentation or any other preparations necessary for a specific case. The mediator acts as an entirely impartial third party, and either party can request a different mediator at any stage in the process. Some states also offer mediation to resolve issues outside of the USDA’s domain, such as disputes involving contracts with food processors or conflicts with neighbors, although 60 percent of mediation cases deal with farm loan programs.

Once both parties agree to mediation, a time and meeting location is determined. Depending on the issue, mediation can sometimes be completed over the phone. Whether mediation takes place by phone or in person, both parties and the trained mediator are present. Gayle Cooper, associate director of the Fulcrum Institute Dispute Resolution Clinic with locations in Idaho, Montana and Washington, estimates that the entire mediation process averages about three hours, depending on the complexity of the issue. While many states, including Idaho, Montana and Washington, offer these services for free, other states charge a small fee. Iowa, for example, charges $50 per hour. In many cases, that’s a more affordable option than paying for an attorney, who can charge anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per hour while pursuing legal action that might take months or years to resolve.

It’s important to note that mediation is very different from legal action in that the mediator has no decision-making power. He or she is simply the facilitator. If the two parties are able to come to an agreement, the mediator will create a binding document for both parties to sign.

USDA disputes:

The Agriculture Mediation Program was originally intended to help farmers respond to adverse USDA decisions without pursuing a legal course of action. Each state with an Agriculture Mediation Program covers cases involving the following eight USDA agencies or programs:

(1)  Farm Service Agency farm programs

(2)  Rural Development housing loans

(3)  Rural Development business loans

(4)  Rural Development water loans

(5)  Natural Resources Conservation Service wetland determinations

(6)  USDA decisions involving pesticides

(7)  National Forest Service grazing permits

(8)  Risk Management Agency crop insurance disputes

Agriculture Mediation Programs are also required to cover issues with agricultural credit and agricultural loans from the Farm Service Agency, as well as from commercial and private lenders.

Other disputes:

Not all states provide mediation services for disputes that do not involve the USDA. States that do offer this option cannot receive federal funding to do so. Each state that does offer non-USDA mediation has different provisions for the types of conflicts it can address. Elaine Bourne, program manager for Community Mediation Services in Maine, shares some examples of common disputes that Maine’s program can help with: farm and rural development loans, environmental or forestry issues, crop insurance or disaster relief, contracts with food processors, conflicts with neighbors, labor issues, farm business plans, wetland determinations, farm succession or estate issues and disputes affecting agricultural operations.

What states offer these services?

Below is a list of states that offer certified Agriculture Mediation Programs, with links to each website where applicable. Don’t see your state below? You can contact the national office by emailing certified.mediationprogram@wdc.usda.gov.

Alabama Agricultural Mediation Program

Arkansas Farm/Creditor Mediation Program

Arizona Agriculture Mediation Institute

Colorado Agricultural Mediation Program

Florida Agricultural Mediation Service

Hawaii Agricultural Mediation Program

Illinois Agricultural Mediation Program

Indiana Agricultural Mediation Program

Iowa Mediation Service (IMS)

Kansas Ag Mediation Services (KAMS)

Louisiana State Agricultural Mediation Program

Maine Agricultural Mediation Program – Volunteers of America

Massachusetts Agricultural Mediation Program

Michigan Agricultural Mediation Program

Minnesota Farmer/Lender Mediation Program

Mississippi Agricultural Mediation Program

Missouri Agricultural Mediation Services

Nebraska Farm Mediation Service

New Hampshire Agricultural Mediation Program

New Mexico Agricultural Mediation Program

New York State Agricultural Mediation Program

North Carolina Agricultural Mediation Program

North Dakota Mediation Service

Oklahoma Agriculture Mediation Program, Inc.

Oregon Farm Mediation Program

South Dakota Mediation and Ag Finance Counseling

State of New Jersey Board of Mediation

Texas Rural Mediation Services

The Community Mediation Center of Rhode Island

Utah Agricultural Mediation Program

Vermont Agricultural Mediation Program

Virginia Agricultural Mediation Program

Wisconsin Farm Mediation and Arbitration Program

Wyoming Ag & Natural Resource Mediation Program

Fulcrum Institute Dispute Resolution Clinic (ID, MT, WA)

Where can I find more information about mediation?

There are many resources available that offer a more in-depth look into how mediation can help, as well as advice on how to contact a local mediation provider.

• The USDA shares this overview of the Agriculture Mediation Program and provides contact information for each state entity.

• Mediate.com walks you through the history of mediation, what it is and how it can help.

• Farm Aid’s Farmer Resource Network includes information about each state’s mediation program and contact information.

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.