Farming is a business, and, like with most businesses, it is rare to receive grant funds to support operations, purchase land or improve buildings. However, there are opportunities for farmers to receive grant support for on-farm research projects, business planning, conservation, and some kinds of marketing support.
Resource for government programs
Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities
This 86-page guide to accessing government programs covers 63 sources of information, assistance or funding. It also includes basic information on how to design sound projects, find appropriate programs, and write grant applications. This is the fourth edition of the guide, publishedby the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, with support from SARE and other USDA agencies.
Need help completing a grant application?
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute offers FREE grant advising. Contact Deirdre Birmingham, or 608-219-4279. She is a farmer, too, and can speak from direct experience. Get help finding an appropriate grant program and creating a plan to meet application requirements.
USDA Funding Opportunities
2014 Farm Bill Conservation Funding
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): Still the best option to fix soil or water-related problems on the farm. Get technical assistance and guidance on hundreds of practices, conservation planning, or payments to help cover costs to build and install them. Plus, now it includes incentives for creating wildlife habitat.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): Your best bet if you’ve already installed conservation practices and you’re interested in doing even more. CSP rewards what you’ve already done and gives you a chance to try something new, or maybe do something you’ve always thought about doing.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP): ACEP combines NRCS’ former Farm and Ranch Lands Protection, Grassland Reserve and Wetlands Reserve programs. Easements are the best way to ensure productive farmland stays farmland and that we protect sensitive land and habitat long-term.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service offers free assistance to help you access these programs.
USDA Programs for Organic Farmers
Farmers can get funds to create buffers on organic farms through Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Windbreaks, filter strips, pollinator strips and field borders in native grasses, shrubs, or trees all will be eligible for enrollment. CRP contracts include an annual rental payment, certain incentive payments, and cost-share payments to install conservation practices.
FSA Farm Loans Guide
This plain-language guide explains the FSA’s farm loans and loan servicing options.
USDA Microloan Program for Small Farms
The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers loans up to $35,000 to help small farmers, disadvantaged farmers and military veterans seeking to start a farm who might otherwise have trouble qualifying for small loans from banks or other USDA loan programs. The loans can help farmers grow niche or organic crops to sell directly to ethnic and farmers markets, or contribute to community-supported agriculture programs. The loan also can cover the costs of seed, equipment, land rents and other expenses. The application process is simpler in comparison with traditional farm loans. The loan does not have to be repaid for seven years. Local Farm Service Agency offices handle applications.
- FSA Fact Sheet on Attaining Microloans
The USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA) developed the Microloans Program to meet the financial needs of small family farms, including beginning and non-traditional farm operations. Microloans can be used for all approved operating expenses.
- Farmers’ Guide to the Farm Service Agency Microloan Program
A publication of Farmers’ Legal Action Group, this guide provides insights about the Microloans Program offered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG)
The USDA’s competitive grants program is designed to help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities. Grants are available to help agricultural producers create new products, expand marketing opportunities, support further processing of existing products or goods, or to develop specialty and niche products. The maximum working capital grant is $200,000; the maximum planning grant is $75,000. Funding priority is given to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers or ranchers, and to small- to medium-sized family farms, or farmer/rancher cooperatives.
Farmers’ Guide to Applying for Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) Funding
A 7-page PDF guide to the USDA’s VAPG program from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s guide to dozens of the federal programs and policies most important to sustainable agriculture and how they can be used by farmers, ranchers, and grassroots organizations nationwide.
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) – North Central Region
SARE is a program providing grants to researchers, agricultural educators, farmers and ranchers, and students in the United States. Farmer project grant requests are generally due in the late fall.
Other Funding Opportunities
The crowd-funding website Barnraiser supports projects related to sustainable food and farming. With a 70% project success rate, Barnraiser is helping farmers raise money to purchase items such as a walking tractor, new fencing, poultry processing equipment or a wood-fired oven. Projects range from $2,000 up to $30,000. Projects are only funded if the full goal amount is raised. Fees amount to 5% for Barnraiser and 4-5% for credit card and payment processing partners. Check out www.barnraiser.us to support current projects or create one of your own.
Chipotle Cultivate Foundation
The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation’s grant-making focuses on supporting family farms that are committed to sustainable farming practices; organizations that are working to develop an affordable, sustainable, pasture-based system of animal production; and organizations promoting better food through innovation or education. The foundation accepts grant proposals by invitation only but is eager to hear about organizations and projects via e-mail.
FruitGuys Community Fund
Founded in 2012 to provide grants (up to $5,000) to small farms and NPOs for sustainability projects that have a positive impact on the environment, local food systems, and farm diversity. The Fund evolved from The FruitGuys Farm Steward Program, which donated funds for small farms’ sustainability projects from 2008–2011.
Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) awards grants for projects that help family farmers transition to pasture-based systems, improve the marketing of their humane products, or more generally to enrich the conditions in which the farm animals are raised. Grant cycle usually opens in September, with deadline in November.
Future Organic Farmer Grants
Students who want to study organic agriculture in an undergraduate or vocational training program may apply for a $2,500 grant through the CCOF Foundation. K-8 teachers may apply for $1,000 grants to fund organic farming education projects. Applications for these grants are due in May. Grants for high school students’ organic Supervised Agricultural Experience projects through FFA are available in September and due in November.
A crowd-funding project that provides 0% interest loans with no fees. A borrower must invite a certain number of family and friends to lend to the project to show the borrower’s trustworthiness to pay back the loan. Once a percentage of the loan is backed, Kiva Zip will promote the loan to their network of over a million lenders. Loans for farmers are available up to $10,000 with a short repayment period of 36 months.
Lakewinds Organic Field Fund
Farmers and farming organizations located in Minnesota, northern Iowa, and western Wisconsin may apply for up to $8,000 to help small-scale farms with research and development, transitioning to organic, and organic certification. Applications are due in early February.
Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF)
This non-profit foundation sponsors research, including farmer-directed research related to organic farming practices. Proposals are considered twice a year in May and November. For more information, call 831-426- 6606 or go to www.ofrf.org.
The Start2Farm site and program are a project of the National Agricultural Library in partnership with the American Farm Bureau Federation. Start2Farm is funded through a USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Beginning Farming and Ranching Development Program grant and was developed to assist people new to farming or ranching and those who have less than 10 years’ experience. Also offer: Grants for new farmers; Sample leases and contract; Federal funding programs for new farmers.
Whole Foods Local Producer Loan Program
Whole Foods Market offers low-interest loans to independent local farmers and food artisans. Farmers can apply for amounts between $1,000 and $100,000 (maximum $25,000 for start-ups) at fixed interest rates (currently between 5% and 9%). Loan amounts cannot exceed 80% of total project costs. The Producer Loan Program reinforces Whole Foods’ commitment to environmental stewardship, while expanding the availability of high-quality local products for its customers.
General Opportunities by State
Angelic Organics Learning Center’s (AOLC’s) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) pairs farmers with consultants to provide targeted expertise and assistance in the areas of land acquisition, business management, production and marketing. AOLC will pay 90% of the consultant fees up to a $500 maximum.
The Leopold Center offers competitive and renewable grants for those in the state of Iowa. Check their website for upcoming grants or contact them with your ideas. Grants are agriculture focused and cover a wide range of topics including: research, buy local, and policy. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (515) 294-3711.
Beginning farmers in Minnesota can get half scholarships for the Farm Business Management program offered through Minnesota State Colleges and Universities or the Southwest Farm Business Management Association.
Organic Transition Cost Share
Farmers in Minnesota who are transitioning to organic (not currently certified) can receive funding through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to pay part of the cost to work with a USDA accredited organic certifying agency during the transition period, which typically lasts three years. In addition, farmers can request reimbursement for soil testing costs and registration fees to attend an organic education conference in Minnesota or a neighboring state. Farmers transitioning to organic can receive a 75 percent rebate of these eligible costs. The maximum payment is $750 per year for three years or until they achieve organic certification, whichever comes first.
Transition Cost Share Program application forms and a set of Frequently Asked Questions are available here or by calling 651-201-6012.
Minnesota Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program
The Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program funds projects that restore, enhance, or protect forests, wetlands, prairies, and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife in Minnesota. Eligible applicants include nonprofit organizations and government entities. Projects must occur on public lands or waters or lands protected by a permanent conservation easement.
Sustainable Agriculture Loan Program
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture provides loans to help farmers adopt sustainable practices.
Ag. Utilization Research Institute (AURI)
AURI provides expertise and assistance to increase value, demand and market opportunities for agriculturally-based products. AURI is helping to add value to Minnesota agriculture. Applicants are required to match contributions and work with AURI personnel in developing the value added project. For more information call (800) 279-5010.
MN Dept of Ag. Sustainable Ag. Demonstration Grant Program (MDA)
This program funds research/demonstration of farming practices that will promote environmental stewardship/conservation of resources and that improve profitability and quality of life on farms and in rural areas. In this round of funding, only proposals that specifically target on-farm research and demonstration projects for cropping systems, soil fertility and energy related projects will be considered. We strongly encourage applicants to work closely with technical advisors (Extension, SWCD, NRCS, consultants, etc.) to design and carry out the project. Learn more.
Minnesota Department of Ag. Conservation Funding Guide
Minnesota is a top state for privately owned farmland set aside or managed to meet conservation goals. Conservation practices on farms can reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat and more. Conservation practices cost money. Fortunately, there are programs that help many farmers pay for conservation. The MN Dept. of Ag. Conservation Funding Guide helps farmers learn about these ever-changing programs – some offered by the MDA but most by other agencies or organizations.
Organic Transition Cost Share
North Dakota crop and livestock farmers who are in the process of transitioning land to organic production may apply for grants to cover 75 percent (up to $750) of certain costs associated with transition with a maximum annual reimbursement of $1000 for up to three years. Also farmers are eligible for up to $250 of reimbursement for approved educational expenses. Applicants must live and farm in North Dakota and may not own or operate any already-certified organic land. Farms that were certified in the past but have since lost certification are not eligible. Approval is on a first-come, first-served basis.
Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin–Producers First Program
Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin is a comprehensive economic development program designed to create models for local food systems by working with farmers and food buyers to develop new markets for Wisconsin grown food products. This program accepts proposals from individuals, groups, businesses and organizations involved in Wisconsin agriculture, food processing, food distribution, food warehousing, retail food establishments or agricultural tourism sites.
5 Steps to Writing a Farm Grant offers ideas to help farmers find money to pursue improvements on the farm. Written by Lisa Kivirist, MOSES Rural Women’s Project Coordinator, for HobbyFarms.com.