Beginning Farmer Project Grants Program Open for Proposals
February 10th, 2010
USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has issued the 2010 Request for Applications (RFA) for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). A priority program of NSAC, the BFRDP funds education, training and technical assistance projects that help new farmers get started in agriculture.
For 2010, $18.2 million is available. Grants are capped at $250,000 a year, not to exceed a maximum 3-year term.
Applications for 2010 funding are due at NIFA by April 6. Public comments on the content of the RFA itself are due by the beginning of October.
Grants will be available in 2010 in two categories – standard grants and educational enhancement grants. Most of the awards will be for standard grants. Priority for educational enhancement grants will be given to regions not awarded such grants in 2009, when the Northeast and North Central regions received such awards. A 5-year national clearinghouse award was made in 2009 to the National Agriculture Library, so that award category will not be repeated again until the expiration of that grant.
A full list of priority topics for 2010 can be found on page 8 and 9 of the RFA.
Unfunded proposals from 2009 may be resubmitted, provided they respond to the previous review panel comments, and will be reviewed according to the same evaluation criteria as the new applications.
NSAC published a report on the 2009 BFRDP awards and submitted detailed comments on the BFRDP rule and on the 2009 edition of the BFRDP RFA. Many of our recommendations have been incorporated into the 2010 RFA:
- As required by law, priority will be given to partnerships and collaborations that are led by or include non-governmental and community-based organizations with expertise in beginning farmer training and outreach. Some funded projects in 2009 were found to have weak or vague partnerships. The RFA is now requiring that partnerships be clearly identified in management plans and reflected in the budget. The new RFA also stipulates that only applications with at least 25 percent of the budget allocated to NGO or CBO partner organizations will receive the priority status required by law.
- Applications for coursework and curriculum for 4-year degree programs have now been strongly discouraged.
- A portion of available 2010 funding will be used for Development Grants, a new category in 2010 to assist organizations that have a good project proposal but that rank below the cutoff for standard grants. These will be aimed at organizations that have not previously been successful in obtaining competitive grants from NIFA. Applicants do not apply directly for Development Grants, but are to indicate in the proposal whether or not they want to be considered for such an award.
- A minimum of 25 percent of BFRDP funds each year are targeted to projects addressing the needs of limited resource, minority, and immigrant farmers and farmworkers seeking to become farmers. The new RFA specifies that if an applicant wants to be considered for this set-aside they should so specify. In those cases, the application and budget must indicate percentages devoted to the targeted groups and provide evidence of a strong track record with serving those populations. The RFA also indicates that all applications do not have to address the needs of the targeted groups, only those seeking funding under the set-aside.
- Project evaluation under the “track record” criterion (one of the six review criteria) will now include successful multi-year experience demonstrated by the number of training and assistance activities carried out, number of participants and graduates of a program, and the number of years a program has been offered.
In a separate communication to NSAC from the NIFA Director and the Acting Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Extension, USDA has indicated that review panel training will emphasize the role of community practitioners and farmers in the review process.
One problem for NGO and CBO applicants has not yet been solved. All awards require a 25 percent cash or in-kind match. Even for 3-year awards, the match must be secured prior to the award. NSAC and NSAC member groups have requested a year-by-year approach to cash matches, provided detailed and realistic plans are provided in the application. Though this recommendation is not included in the new RFA, USDA has indicated to us in writing that “all matching funds are required at the time of the award, but we will continue to explore ways to address this concern.” NSAC will stay engaged on that point, hoping to find an acceptable solution soon.