New Farm Bill Resource Now Available to Help Farmers and Food Advocates Navigate USDA Programs

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) published a comprehensive digital guide to the key federal farm and food programs that support sustainable farm and food systems.  The Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs will help farmers and non-profit organizations navigate the numerous farm bill and other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that have been championed by NSAC.

“The Grassroots Guide will be a valuable resource for farmers as they look for opportunities and financing to grow their farms and help build a more sustainable farming system,” says Juli Obudzinski, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  “The Guide is specifically targeted to the farming community and distills very technical federal policies and programs in a way that is accessible to farmers and consumers alike.”

The Grassroots Guide includes up-to-date information on conservation, credit, rural development, research, and food programs authorized in the farm bill and other pieces of federal legislation – including recent policy changes made in the 2014 Farm Bill.

This new resource details over 40 federal food and farm programs that provide funding to farmers and organizations for conservation assistance, farm real estate and operating loans, outreach to minority and veteran farmers, beginning farmer training programs, value-added enterprises, support for farmers markets and farm to school programs, and more.  The Guide is organized into the following topic areas:

  • Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
  • Conservation and Environment
  • Credit and Crop Insurance
  • Food Safety
  • Local and Regional Food Systems
  • Organic Production
  • Renewable Energy
  • Rural Development
  • Sustainable and Organic Research

For each program included, the Guide provides plain-language explanations of how the program works, who can utilize the program, examples of the program in action, step-by-step application instructions, additional resources, and a brief overview of the program’s history – including legislative and administrative changes and historical funding levels.

Extended Deadline for USDA Value-Added Producer Grants

TODAY, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency announced a two-week extension for grant applications for the Value-Added Producer Grant program. The new grant deadline, April 8, was necessary due to changes to the program included in the 2014 Farm Bill that was recently signed into law.

“Value-Added Producer Grants create jobs and economic growth in rural communities by increasing income and marketing opportunities for farmers and by improving the local economy through job development and retention,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “VAPG also enhances food choices for consumers, helping farmers meet growing demand for high quality, value-added local and regional food products.”

Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding

To help farmers, farm groups, and farm coops understand the program and the current funding cycle, NSAC today re-issued its Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding. The updated free Guide provides helpful hints to improve a producer’s chances of obtaining funding from the highly competitive program and provides clear information on the program’s application requirements, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes.

Veteran Priority Added

The two week extension will allow groups who have already submitted funding applications to revise their proposals if the new farm bill’s addition of returning veteran farmers to the program’s priorities is applicable to their proposal.

Other program priorities include small and medium-scale family farms, beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. “We urge everyone who submitted a VAPG application to make a determination in the coming days as to whether their proposals need to be modified or not,” said Hoefner. “As part of the new farm bill, Congress added a veteran’s preference to a variety of programs, including VAPG, and applicants whose project includes returning veterans will want to highlight that aspect of their project.”

In addition, the 2014 Farm Bill also clarifies that group projects that include more than a single farmer are to be ranked in terms of how well they advance the program’s priorities by the review panels that evaluate all of the proposed projects. USDA will also be implementing this change as part of the current funding round.

“The program will function better with the new approach for determining which group project proposals best contribute to advancing the congressional-mandated priorities for small and mid-sized family farms and for beginning, minority, and veteran farmers.” commented Hoefner. “We applaud USDA for implementing this provision and the veterans priority as part of the current grant cycle.”

Second Grant Round This Year Possible

Congress appropriated $13.8 million in fiscal year 2013 and $15 million in fiscal year 2014 for VAPG. Both sums will be added together for this current grant round. Whether USDA awards the entire combined amount, or something less than that, will depend on the quality of the proposals received.

In addition to the $15 million in appropriated funds for fiscal year 2014, the 2014 Farm Bill also provides the program with $63 million in funding that can be used over the course of the next five years. USDA may decide to use a portion of the $63 million in a second grant round later this year; final decisions are pending.

“We are pleased USDA is combining two years’ worth of appropriations in this grant round, and that they are considering a possible second round later this year,” said Hoefner. “This will allow Rural Development to catch up and hopefully get back on a normal year-by-year grant cycle beginning in 2015.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.