USDA Programs Can Help Farmers Succeed

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By Margo Hale, NCAT Southeast Regional Director, Armed to Farm Program Director, and Agriculture Specialist

I have worked on NCAT’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program as an Agriculture Specialist and educator for more than 15 years. Over the years, I have taught thousands of farmers through workshops and presentations. I am often surprised by the number of farmers, including those who have been farming for many years, who do not know about the many resources available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assist them in their farming journey.

Part of my role as an NCAT Agriculture Specialist is to connect farmers to the resources that they need, so I always include USDA agencies in our Armed to Farm trainings for military veterans and other educational events we organize. The USDA has dozens of agencies and programs to help farmers—as depicted in the graphic below—but for this blog I will mention just a few.

A Snapshot of Helpful USDA Programs

Farm Service Agency (FSA)

The FSA offers financial assistance to farmers through ownership and operating loans, conservation incentives, disaster assistance, price support, and cost-share programs. You must register your farm with FSA in order to access other USDA programs. This guide outlines how to get started with FSA.

NCAT’s Highlighted Farm Service Agency Programs for Small-scale or Diversified Farmers and Ranchers has a great overview of some of the most commonly used FSA programs.

High tunnel built through USDA Program

Farmer-veteran Eric Grandon has used USDA Programs to make improvements to his farm, including building a high tunnel and adding pollinator habitat.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

The NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices. See Step-by-Step: How to Get Assistance from NRCS for tips on accessing NRCS programs. NRCS can provide technical assistance on conservation practices to address opportunities, concerns, and problems related to the use of natural resources. NRCS also offers several financial assistance programs to help plan and implement conservation practices on farms.

Rural Development (RD)

Rural Development is another USDA agency that could be helpful to your farm business. RD operates more than 50 financial assistance programs for rural communities and businesses. Some of these programs include rural home loans, rural business loans, and the Value-Added Producer Grant.

If you are a veteran, woman, or socially disadvantaged farmer you may be eligible for reduced fees for some programs and set-aside funding pools for others. These benefits vary among agencies and programs, so you must visit with your local agency staff for details.

USDA Programs Working for Farmer-Veterans

Sara Creech and her local USDA NRCS agent.

Sara Creech and her local USDA NRCS agent.

In my work, I’ve met many farmers who have found assistance through USDA programs. In a recent podcast, farmer-veterans Eric Grandon and Sara Creech, alumni of NCAT’s Armed to Farm program, share how they have utilized various USDA programs and services to meet their farm goals. Eric and Sara both got their start with USDA programs by visiting their local USDA office. You can find your local USDA office by using the USDA Service Center Locator.

The podcast also mentions Bill Ashton, USDA Military Veteran Liaison. Bill recently recorded a podcast with Soldier for Life that explains the ways that the USDA serves military veterans. You can see more about the USDA’s Veteran Initiatives here.

More Information

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the different agencies, programs, and acronyms, but a little persistence in navigating the system can pay off for you and your farm. Our NCAT Agriculture Specialists are familiar with most of the USDA agencies and programs. We’re happy to answer questions and help you access these programs. You can contact our specialists at 800-346-9140 or

Related Resources

NCAT’s Armed to Farm website and Facebook page

Veteran Resources

Federal Conservation Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching

ATTRA Blog: The Sequel is Better: CFAP2 is Available Now

ATTRA Blog: The CART Before the Horse: Understanding Access to Federal Assistance for Conservation Solutions

Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART): Part 1 Overview Webinar

Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART): Part II—The Process

Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART): Part III—Deep Dive

USDA Military Veterans Agriculture Liaison (MVAL)

Bill Ashton
Office of Partnerships & Public Engagement
Office of the Secretary
United States Department of Agriculture
Office:  (202) 720-1751
Cell:     (202) 578-0380