Extension Risk Management Education Program


Providing grants for agricultural risk management training

Farmers deal with uncertainty and risk daily. At any time, crops, livestock, and livelihoods can by damaged or destroyed by extreme weather, pests, or changes in the market. To protect against these inherent risks associated with farming, farmers can employ a number of risk management strategies. For example, producers can purchase insurance policies, enter into production or marketing contracts, implement soil health and fertility improvements, or diversify into new value-added markets. The Extension Risk Management Education Program (ERME) provides competitive grant funding through four regional centers and one digital center to help farmers learn how to better mitigate risk on their farms. ERME-funded projects help farmers identify resources and implement techniques to reduce risk and increase the financial stability of their operations.

 Learn More About ERME:

Program Basics

The ERME program funds projects that provide farmers with the knowledge, skills, and tools to make informed risk management decisions for their operations. Risk management strategies can range from engaging in futures, options, and forward contracts to broader strategies such as crop and enterprise diversification, conservation planning, new and value-added markets, and asset building. The program currently has five priority topics: production, price or marketing, human resources, legal, and financial risk.

The program is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and operates through four regional centers and a fifth digital center:

  • North Central Center: University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension
  • Northeast Center: University of Delaware Cooperative Extension
  • Southern Center: University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture
  • Western Center: Washington State University Cooperative Extension
  • Digital Center for Risk Management Education: University of Minnesota

NIFA makes the initial grants to the four regional centers, which then solicit grant applications on a competitive basis from the regions they represent. The regional centers all use the same process for soliciting and selecting grantees, but each sets its own priorities to align with their region’s needs. The universities that house the regional centers compete from time to time for that hosting privilege; the last competition took place in 2009.

NIFA emphasizes grants to risk management education projects that assist:

  • Beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers
  • Legal immigrant farmers or ranchers
  • Farmers preparing to retire and pursuing transition strategies to help new farmers get started
  • Farmers converting production and marketing systems to pursue new markets

The 2018 Farm Bill directs NIFA to continue the same emphasis, but to focus not only on risk management strategies but also farm viability, including:

  • Business planning and technical assistance
  • Market assessment
  • Transfer and succession planning
  • Crop insurance participation.

Eligibility

Organizations eligible to apply for the grants from the regional centers include:

  • Land grant and other colleges and universities
  • Cooperative Extension
  • Other public and private entities with a demonstrated capacity to develop and deliver educational programs for agricultural producers

The latter eligibility category includes farm groups, lenders, risk management service providers, and community-based organizations (including nonprofits). Collaborative proposals are strongly encouraged.

Generally, the range of awards for single region projects has been between $5,000 and $50,000. Multi-region projects are allowed, but a separate application must be submitted to each region.

The Program in Action

ERME regional centers have funded over 1,000 projects in every state since their creation in 2002 (the program was authorized in 2000). These projects have engaged tens of thousands of farmer participants in risk management education training. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, 69 projects in over 30 states were funded, serving over 35,000 participants.

Examples of recent projects include:  

  • Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) received funding to deliver intensive, land-based training in food safety and marketing education, such as proactive buyer-farmer matchmaking to 60 aspiring and beginning farmers on a 100-acre organic farm.
  • Adelante Mujeres received a grant to provide Latino farmers of specialty crops with risk management training and access to market programming focused on production scale up.

For a complete list of funded projects across regions, check out the ERME website.

How to Apply and Program Resources

Every year, each of the four regional centers releases a Request for Applications (RFA) – typically during the fall – and will keep the application period open through mid-November. All the regional centers use the same evaluation criteria and process for choosing project grantees and have the same online grant application. The RFAs are accessed through each regional center’s website.

All of the centers set different funding priorities, as outlined in the RFA, that are based on the priorities of each region.

Grant awardees are chosen at the regional level by each regional center’s review panel. Awards are typically made in the spring of the following year.

More information on how to apply for grants can be found on each center’s website:

More general information on the ERME program can also be found on the NIFA program website or on the Regional Center website.

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

The ERME program was created in 2000 upon passage of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000. Until 2019, the program had received $5 million in mandatory funding per year to support regionally focused risk management training efforts. Going forward, it will now receive $10 million a year.

The 2008 Farm Bill amended the program to increase its focus on certain populations, including a specific priority on projects that support:

  • Beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers
  • Legal immigrant farmers or ranchers
  • Farmers preparing to retire and pursuing transition strategies to help new farmers get started
  • Farmers converting production and marketing systems to pursue new markets

The 2014 Farm Bill retained those priorities and further amended the program to specifically mention farm financial benchmarking as a specific risk management strategy the program can support. Farm financial benchmarking involves comparing the performance of similar farms using data in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of an agricultural enterprise.

The 2018 Farm Bill shifts $5 million in funding from the Risk Management Partnership Program to the ERME program. The ERME program now has $10 million in mandatory funding per year to carry out the mission of the program, no less than $5 million of which must be set aside to fund projects specifically focused on educating producers that are underserved by the federal crop insurance program. Additionally, several new areas of emphasis are added, including conservation activities and farm viability.

Risk Management Education Program Funding 

Fiscal Year Total Farm Bill Mandatory Funding (in millions)
2019 $10
2020 $10
2021 $10
2022 $10
2023 $10
5 yr total $50
10 yr total $100

Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2018 Farm Bill for this program to be provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation.  However, Congress does at times pass subsequent appropriations legislation that either caps the funding level for a particular year for a particular program at less than provided by the farm bill, or provide additional discretionary funding. In addition, ERME is subject to automatic cuts as part of an annual sequestration process established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

For the most current information on program funding levels, please see NSAC’s Annual Appropriations Chart.

Authorizing Language:

Section 133 of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 amended the Federal Crop Insurance Act, further amended by Section 12026 of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, Section 11027(c) of the Agricultural Act of 2014, and by Section 11125 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, and codified at 7 U.S.C. 1524(a).

Last updated August 2019.