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Question of the Week



Permalink As a new farmer, what funding opportunities are available to me?

Answer: There are many agriculture-related funding opportunities, some of which are specifically for beginning farmers. Most funders have specific funding cycles, so it's a good idea to get familiar with various funders and their funding cycle—and with the types of projects they typically fund—so that you’re prepared when a new funding cycle is announced.

For its Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loans, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a beginning farmer as someone who has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years, does not own a ranch or farm greater than the 30% of the median size farm in the county as determined by the most current Census for Agriculture (80 acres in 2007, but a new 2012 census will be released in the near future), meets the loan eligibility requirements of specific program to which he/she is applying, and participates substantially in the operation.

There are a range of loan and grant opportunities through the USDA. A few key agencies are Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Rural Development. FSA provides direct loans and loan guarantees, and it reserves a portion of its loan funds for beginning farmers. A fact sheet on FSA programs is available at www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/webapp?area=home&subject=fmlp&topic=bfl. NRCS provides cost-share opportunities for implementing conservation practices. Both agencies have local offices throughout the country. To find a local USDA Service Center, visit http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app. Rural Development administers the Value-Added Producer grant program, which helps farmers develop value-added projects at their operation. The grant deadline has passed this year, but this is a good resource for the future. For more information, visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_VAPG.html.

In addition to these programs, the USDA organizes information about its many programs in ways that make it more accessible to small-scale or sustainable farmers. For example, USDA Small Farm Funding Resources contains information about issues to consider before starting a farming operation with links to full-text guides on how to start a farm business, and develop business and marketing plans. It also contains information about funding sources for beginning farmers, training, technical assistance contacts, organizations with resources and programs for beginning and experienced farmers, and more. The guide is available at www.nal.usda.gov/ric/ricpubs/small_farm_funding.htm.

Also see Where can I find agricultural funding resources?, compiled by the Alternative Farming Systems Information Center and available at http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/funding.shtml.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is a new USDA website designed to assist farmers, communities, and organizations in accessing federal resources to build local food systems. See www.usda.gov/wps/portal/knowyourfarmer?navtype=KYF&navid=KYF_GRANTS.

In addition to the information provided by the USDA on its own programs, ATTRA offers several useful publications. Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches, and Communities: a Resource for Federal Programs is an in-depth document that explains opportunities in seeking aid from federal programs. Federal Conservation Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching provides an overview of USDA programs for sustainable farmers. Evaluating a Farming Enterprise discusses the initial questions to ask when starting a farm, as well as basic considerations. Lastly, Financing Your Farm: Guidance for Beginning Farmers introduces several different financing options for new farms. These publications are available on the ATTRA website at http://attra.ncat.org.

ATTRA also posts funding opportunities on its web site at http://www.attra.org/funding/, and through an XML feed at https://attra.ncat.org/calendar/funding.php?tempskin=_rss2.

There are many non-USDA funding resources available, as well. For example, Funds for Farmers, compiled by the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, identifies a wide variety of funds and resources available for beginning and established organic farmers. MOSES has organized the vast array of resources into different categories, each explained in a two-page fact sheet. Each resource contains a detailed explanation to help you quickly identify the opportunities that are appropriate. See www.mosesorganic.org/fundsforfarmers.html.

Michigan State University’s Beginning Farmer Project has compiled information on grants and loans available through other organizations, and also offers some help in developing a business plan. See Funding Resources at http://beginningfarmers.org/funding-resources/.

The Center for Rural Affairs Beginning Farmers Financing Strategies fact sheet provides information about the five main funding sources: local banks, private contracts, farm credit services, Aggie Bond programs (state operated beginning farmer loans), and the USDA. The fact sheet is available at www.cfra.org/resources/beginning_farmer/fundingsources.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) offers grants to farmers that often focus on research. Visit www.sare.org/Grants/Apply-for-a-Grant for more information.

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