Farming is a risky business and has become increasingly difficult to enter over the past few decades. For farmers of color and military veteran farmers in this country, starting and managing a successful farming operation is fraught with even greater challenges. Although several federal programs exist to support farmers of all kinds – including loan, conservation, and disaster assistance programs to name a few – racial minorities and veteran farmers have not historically participated in these programs to the same extent as other farmers, often due to insufficient or inadequate outreach and assistance to these farming communities.
For decades, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the Section 2501 Program) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of minority farmers and was recently expanded to also serve military veterans. The 2501 Program helps institutions and nonprofits provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to serve these historically underserved producers.
Learn More About the 2501 Program!
The Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers program, also known as the “Section 2501” program after its original Farm Bill section number, provides grants to organizations that work with minority and veteran farmers and assist them in owning and operating farms and participating in USDA programs. USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach administers the program.
The Section 2501 Program was established in the 1990 Farm Bill and has historically targeted funding to support farmers who are considered “socially disadvantaged” by USDA’s definition. These include African American, American Indian, Asian American, and Latino farmers and ranchers. The most recent farm bill expands the program to also serve returning military veterans entering farming.
Socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have been historically underrepresented in many USDA programs for several reasons, including first and foremost historic discrimination. Limited resources also play a role, as does lack of outreach. As a result of discrimination and other factors, many are not aware of USDA programs or where to go to access assistance with their farming venture. Even if they do know about federal programs, underserved producers often find that programs are not geared to their needs. Some may also find it difficult to complete program applications – especially those related to financial assistance that involve complicated loan or grant applications. Some potential applicants also experience language, institutional, and other cultural barriers that have historically prevented their participation in USDA programs.
The purpose of the program is to assure that socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers have opportunities to successfully acquire, own, operate, and retain farms and equitably participate in all USDA programs. The program supports a range of outreach and assistance activities, including farm management, financial management, marketing, and application and bidding procedures.
Applicants are also encouraged to coordinate with existing regional projects to complement pertinent and relevant cross-regional activities.
The 2501 program provides grants to organizations that develop outreach programs and provide technical assistance to underserved farmers. Organizations that are eligible to apply for grant funding include:
Organizations must have demonstrated expertise in working with underserved, socially disadvantaged and/or veteran farmer communities.
Over the past 20 years, the Section 2501 Program has invested millions of dollars of federal funding to develop and strengthen innovative outreach and technical assistance programs and other resources targeted at historically underserved producers.
In the most recent three years for which data is available, 158 grants worth $45 million were made to groups and university programs in 34 states around the country in both rural and urban communities. In the past few years alone, the program has served more than 100,000 rural constituents, making it an invaluable resource for communities of color and veterans across the nation.
A few program highlights include the following projects:
USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach administers the program. A Funding Opportunity Announcement is published in the Federal Register for each Fiscal Year that funding is available, and applicants typically have 30 days to prepare and submit their application through Grants.gov. Matching funds are not required.
Additional information on how to apply can be found on the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers program website.
Read about the latest news about the 2501 Program on our blog!
The Section 2501 Program received its first authorization in the 1990 Farm Bill (in which it was Section 2501 of that particular bill) with an authorization for $10 million in discretionary funding per year, and has had periodic funding increases to address historical discrimination faced by minority farmers. It continues to help improve equity and inclusion for socially disadvantaged producers in federal agriculture programs.
The 2002 Farm Bill increased the authorization to $25 million per year, but the program never received a congressional appropriation of more than $6 million in any year. Despite the program’s early success, program funding had historically not been sufficient to reach counties throughout the U.S. where outreach was needed the most until the 2008 Farm Bill greatly increased total funding by providing $75 million in direct farm bill funding for 2009 through 2012.
Since 2010, roughly $20 million has been available each year to fund new and continuing projects under this program. No funding was awarded in 2013, due to the delay in reauthorizing the farm bill. The 2014 Farm Bill that was finally passed in February 2014 provides $10 million per year in mandatory funding for Fiscal Years 2014 through 2018, which is roughly half of previous farm bill funding levels.
Unfortunately, this significant cut in funding also accompanies a significant program expansion to also serve the needs of the influx of returning military veterans who wish to pursue a career in farming. This underinvestment in the Section 2501 Program will ultimately shortchange our nation’s most vulnerable and chronically underserved farmers, and will slow the pace of progress and subsequent success of these farming operations, and thus, American agriculture as a whole.
Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Funding
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Section 12201 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 2501 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 2279.
Last updated in October 2014.