December 12, 2012
The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) has recently issued a report evaluating the 2012 grant allocations through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). NSAC collaborated on the evaluation and report.
The evaluation included a phone survey of 36 out of 40 projects funded by the program in 2012 — its last year of funding in the current (now expired) farm bill. Two grantees responded via email. Program evaluation was based on grant distribution; partnerships and collaborations; regional distribution; type, scale, and duration of projects; usage of 25 percent set-aside for socially disadvantaged producers; challenges for recipients; and finally, emerging trends.
In total, the program received 109 applications in 2012, which is consistent with previous years. From these applications, 40 were awarded funding, for a total funding allocation of over $17 million. Of the 40 funded grants, 26 awards went to projects led by community-based or non-governmental organizations, while 14 went to academic institutions.
Of the funded projects, 33 projects targeted socially disadvantaged and limited resource producers to some degree, far exceeding the 25 percent set-aside established by law. A total of 14 projects dedicated 100 percent of their efforts to working with socially disadvantaged farmers.
Of the four regions of the country (Northeast, South, Midwest, and West), the Midwest received the highest proportion of awarded projects and grant funding. The states with the greatest number of grants in 2012 were Minnesota and Illinois, both with four awards each.
The report divides recommendations for the future into legislative, programmatic, and administrative recommendations. Legislative recommendations focus on renewing and increasing funding, expanding the existing set-aside to also include military veterans who are beginning farmers, and retaining the current matching funds requirements.
Programmatic recommendations include placing higher priority on community-based organizations; offering grant writing support to first-time applicants or groups with limited capacity; and ensuring that the overall number of wards primarily addressing socially disadvantaged producers is no less than 25 percent.
Administrative recommendations focus on making the application process easier to follow and less time-consuming.
The Future of BFRDP Depends on New Farm Bill
Current funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program expired on September 30 this year. Congress clearly understands the importance of this program, as both the House and Senate include funding for BFRDP in their draft farm bills, albeit at decreased levels. For more about BFRDP’s at least temporary expiration, see our earlier post.
Unless Congress acts on reauthorizing the farm bill or provides for a short-term extension of the current farm bill that explicitly provides for new BFRDP funding, the program could completely vanish for at least a year. With that delay, so goes much needed support for new farming opportunities and new economic opportunities that will help reform the food system and stimulate the economy.
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