Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill.
Agricultural Act of 2014 (also referred to as the 2014 Farm Bill; Public Law 113-79) — The Farm Bill that was passed by Congress and signed into law on February 7th, 2014. The bill reauthorizes and provides funding for commodity, crop insurance, nutrition, conservation, research, rural development, forestry, credit, specialty crop, energy, and trade programs for Fiscal Years 2014 through 2018.
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service administers programs that facilitate the efficient, fair marketing of U.S. agricultural products, including food, fiber, and specialty crops.
Applied Research — Applied research expands on fundamental (basic) research findings to uncover practical ways in which new knowledge can be advanced to benefit individuals and society. Applied research is generally designed to solve practical problems such as, for instance, mitigating climate change, or developing new niche markets for family farmers, or developing plant varieties with improved nutritional values that work well in diversified crop rotations.
Appropriations — An appropriations act of Congress permits USDA or other federal agencies to incur financial obligations to be drawn from the Federal Treasury. Appropriations are most often annual (one year in duration), but can be multiple-year (a definite period in excess of one fiscal year) or no-year (available indefinitely).
Congress uses an authorization-appropriation process that provides for two separate types of legislation — authorization bills and appropriation bills — that are generally considered in sequence. First, authorization bills establish, continue, or modify policies, agencies, and programs. Second, appropriations bills provide spending for the agencies and programs previously authorized.
Appropriations are under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and provide for about 40 percent of total federal spending each year; the balance of federal spending is in mandatory or direct spending programs, such as Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and farm commodity and crop insurance programs, under the control of authorizing committees.
Congress annually considers a dozen appropriations measures, one of which is for agriculture, rural development, and the food and drug administration. The interplay between the multi-year farm bill, an authorizing measure, and the annual agriculture appropriations bill sometimes results in the line between them being blurred, as when the appropriations bill uses legislative “riders” that change the terms of an authorized policy or program or when the appropriations bill limits or eliminates mandatory farm bill programs by placing limitations on agency salaries and expenses that can be spent to implement a program.
Authorization — Legislation that establishes or continues a specific federal policy, the legal operation of a Federal program or agency, either indefinitely or for a specific period of time, or that sanctions a particular type of expenditure. An authorization normally is a prerequisite for an appropriation or other kind of budget authority. An authorization may limit the amount of budget authority to be provided or may authorize the appropriation of “such sums as may be necessary.” Some authorizing committees of Congress also have jurisdiction over direct, mandatory spending and, in those instances, the provisions of the authorizing legislation determine the spending level for those mandatory programs. The farm bill is an example of an authorizing bill. The farm bill includes programs that are authorized for appropriations as well as direct, mandatory spending programs.
Beginning Farmer or Rancher — By statute and regulation, to qualify as a beginning farmer or rancher under USDA’s Farm Service Agency guidelines, the loan applicant must be an individual or entity who:
(1) will own or operate a farm that is not larger than a family farm,
(2) meets the loan eligibility requirements of the program to which he/she is applying;
(3) has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years;
(4) materially and substantially participates in the operation of the farm and provides substantial day-to-day labor and management of the farm;
(5) agrees to participate in financial and credit management programs if required; and
(6) demonstrates family resources are insufficient to start or continue farming on a viable scale without federal assistance.
For farm ownership (FO) loan purposes, applicant cannot own a farm greater than 30 percent of the median size farm in the county. For direct FO loans, applicant must have participated in the operation of a farm for at least 3 years, although some flexibility can be given. If the applicant is a corporation, cooperative, partnership, or other type of entity, all members must be related by blood or marriage. If the applicant is a corporation, all stockholders individually must be eligible beginning farmers.
For most other USDA programs other than FSA credit programs, beginning farmers and ranchers are defined by administrative guidance as farmers and ranchers (or all members of the entity) who (a) have not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years, and (b) will materially or substantially participate in the operation of the farm or ranch and provide substantial day-to-day labor and management of the farm. In some instances, additional criteria could be added for the purposes of the particular program.
Biomass — Plant material, vegetation, and forest and agricultural waste used as a fuel or energy source. The 2008 Farm Bill defines “renewable biomass” in part to include any organic material available on a renewable or recurring basis on private or tribal land including renewable plant materials and waste materials (crop residues, wood waste, animal waste and byproducts, and food and yard waste).
Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act (CNR) — Legislation which authorizes all of the federal school meal and child nutrition programs, such as the School Breakfast, National School Lunch, Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Farm to School Grant Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, all of which help to ensure that low-income children have access to healthy and nutritious foods. The reauthorization occurs roughly every five years and amends two existing statutes: the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The last reauthorization was in 2010, with another scheduled for 2015.
Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) — A federally owned and operated corporation within the USDA created to stabilize and support agricultural prices and farm income by making loans and payments to producers, purchasing commodities, and engaging in various other operations. The CCC handles all money transactions for agricultural price and income support and related programs. The CCC authorizes the sale of CCC-acquired commodities to other government agencies, foreign governments, and relief and development organizations. The CCC also provides mandatory funding for other farm bill programs, including conservation, rural development, renewal energy, and research. A Board of Directors under the Secretary of Agriculture manages the CCC.
Competitive Grants — Funds that are awarded to project proposals submitted by eligible individuals or entities in response to a request for applications or proposals based on a set of criteria, often by review panels of relevant experts and professional peers. For most competitive programs, only a portion of the proposals submitted will be ranked highly enough to receive funding.
Conservation Activities — Conservation systems, practices, or management measures designed to address a resource concern.
Conservation Plans and Planning — A natural resource and environmental problem-solving and management process that for a particular farm or field identifies resource concerns, inventories resources and baseline data, identifies desired future conditions and conservation objectives, selects conservation activities to implement, improve or maintain, and periodically assesses progress. Conservation planning generally integrates ecological, economic, and social considerations. The ultimate objective is the sound use and management of soil, water, air, energy, plant, and animal resources to prevent their degradation and ensure their sustained use and renewal. A conservation plan can also refer to a plan developed for the purposes of meeting the conservation compliance requirements for receiving commodity and crop insurance subsidies.
Conservation Practice — Any technique or measure used to protect or improve natural resources and environmental quality, for which standards and specifications for installation, operation, or maintenance have been developed. Practices approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service are compiled at each conservation district in its field office technical guide. Conservation practices generally fall into one of the following categories: structural, vegetative, or land management measures.
Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) – Conservation technical assistance, administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and local conservation districts, provides technical assistance to farmers for planning and implementing conservation systems and practices. More broadly, technical assistance means technical information and tools needed for the conservation of natural resources on agricultural land, including technical services provided directly to farmers as well as the technical infrastructure (research, training, standards, monitoring, etc.) needed to support the delivery of technical services.
Cost-sharing — Payments to producers to cover a specified portion of the cost of installing, implementing, or maintaining a conservation practice.
Crop Insurance — Insurance that protects farmers from crop losses due to natural hazards. A subsidized multiperil federal insurance program, administered by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, is available to most farmers. Federal crop insurance is sold and serviced through private insurance companies. The Federal Government subsidizes a portion of the premium, as well as some administrative and operating expenses of the private companies. The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation reinsures the companies by absorbing the losses of the program when indemnities exceed total premiums. Various types of yield and revenue insurance products are available for major crops. Hail and fire insurance are offered through private companies without Federal subsidy.
Cropland — Land used primarily for production of row crops, close-growing crops, and fruit and nut crops. It includes cultivated and non-cultivated acreage, but not land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Direct Loan – “Direct” farm loans are made by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to family-size farmers and ranchers who cannot obtain commercial credit from conventional lenders. The FSA also services these loans and provides supervision and credit counseling so borrowers have a better chance for success. Farm Ownership (FO), Operating (OL), Microloan, Emergency, and Youth loans are the main types of loans available under the direct farm loan programs. A substantial portion of direct loan funds is set aside each year for loans to minority and woman applicants and to beginning farmers. Direct loan applications are made at the local FSA office.
Farmer-to-Consumer Direct Marketing Act — The legislative authority under which the Farmers Market and Locl Foods Promotion Program and other related programs administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service operate. Can include farmers’ markets, farm stands, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture, pick-your-own farms, Internet marketing, and other niche direct markets.
Discretionary Funding — Funding dependent upon the annual Congressional appropriations process. This funding is optional and does not have to be provided. See entry for appropriations for more information.
Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) – Debit card technology used for issuing SNAP (food stamp) benefits and potentially other nutrition assistance programs. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is scheduled to fully change over from coupons to EBT by 2020.
Farm Ownership Loan — Farm Ownership (FO) loans may be made by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to purchase farmland, construct or repair buildings and other fixtures, develop farmland to promote soil and water conservation, or to refinance debt. FO loans are made under both guaranteed and direct loan programs, and are made to producers unable to obtain credit from conventional lenders.
Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (also referred to as the 2002 Farm Bill; P.L. 107-171) – The farm bill for Fiscal Years 2002 through 2007. The legislation was signed into law on May 13, 2002. This farm bill re-introduced counter-cyclical farm program payments, introduced the Conservation Security Program, and was the first farm bill to include a separate energy title.
Farm Service Agency (FSA) — The Farm Service Agency (FSA) administers and manages farm commodity, credit, disaster, and loan programs through a network of federal, state and county offices. It also manages the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Reserve Program-Transition Incentives Program, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) — The federally owned and operated corporation within USDA that promotes the economic stability of agriculture through a system of highly subsidized crop insurance.
Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (also referred to as the 1996 Farm Bill; P.L. 104-127) –The farm bill for 1996-2002. The legislation was signed into law on April 4, 1996. The bill is sometimes referred to as the Freedom to Farm Act for its policy shift ending all forms of supply management, the mainstay of farm programs since the Great Depression. The bill also consolidated many older conservation programs into the new Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Final Rule — A rule promulgated by an administrative agency after the public has had an opportunity to comment on the proposed rule and/or an interim final rule that translates statutory authority into programmatic details used to actually administer a policy or program.
Fiscal Year — The federal government’s annual accounting period. It begins October 1 and ends on the following September 30. A fiscal year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends and is often referred to with the abbreviation FY.
Food and Nutrition Service — A USDA agency that works to end hunger and obesity through the administration of 15 federal nutrition assistance programs including SNAP (food stamps), WIC, and school meals. FNS administers the Farm to School grant program as well as the Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990 (also referred to as the 1990 Farm Act; P.L. 101-624) — The farm bill for Fiscal Years 1991 through 1995. The legislation was signed into law on November 28, 1990. The longest farm bill (before or since), it included 25 titles and introduced the full-fledged Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, the Organic Food Production Act, farm program planting flexibility for sustainable farmers, the National Research Initiative, the first ever beginning farmer credit provisions, and grants for outreach to minority farmers, among many others.
Food Security Act of 1985 (also referred to as the 1985 Farm Act; P.L. 99-198) – The farm bill for 1986-1990. The farm bill was signed into law on December 23, 1985. The law established marketing loans and loan deficiency payments, and included the first major conservation title in a farm bill, creating conservation conditions in return for the receipt of farm program benefits and establishing the Conservation Reserve Program.
Fundamental or Basic Research — Research conducted primarily to increase scientific knowledge or understanding that might have broad potential application but not necessarily for direct application or new commercial products or processes. Also known as “basic research.”
Guaranteed Loan — Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS) guarantees loans by private commercial lenders (e.g., banks, Farm Credit System institutions, credit unions, etc.), generally for between 80 and 95 percent of any loss of principal and interest on a loan. The guarantee permits lenders to extend credit to farmers or businesses that do not meet the lenders’ normal underwriting criteria. In the case of FSA, guaranteed loans are made both for farm ownership (FO) and operating (OL) purposes.
Highly Erodible Land (HEL) — Soils with an erodibility index (EI) equal to or greater than eight are defined as HEL. An EI of eight indicates that without any cover or conservation practices, the soil will erode at a rate eight times the soil tolerance level. Fields containing at least one-third or 50 acres (whichever is less) of HEL are designated as highly erodible for the purpose of conservation compliance and sodbuster.
Incentive Payments – Payments to producers in an amount or at a rate necessary to encourage producers to adopt one or more land management practices.
Indirect Costs — The portion of a grant that covers general operating expenses and administrative activities not directly related to activities sponsored by the grant. Generally program rules will include a specific limit on the amount of indirect costs, if any, for which grant funds may be used.
Integrated Research — NIFA defines integrated research as bringing the three components of the agricultural knowledge system (research, education, and extension) together around a problem area or activity. Integrated projects must involve at least two out of the three components.
Interim Final Rule — A rule promulgated by an administrative agency that goes into effect when it is published, but will be open for public comment for a specific period of time and then potentially revised and issued as a final rule.
Land Grant Colleges and Universities — Institutions of higher education that have been designated by its state legislature or Congress to receive unique federal support under the Morrill Acts, the Hatch Act, the Smith-Lever Act, and other related federal laws.
Limited-Resource Farmer or Rancher — Under several federal agricultural programs, producers who lack the income or asset base to obtain credit or require additional assistance are referred to as limited-resource producers. USDA further refined the definition through program guidance to mean farmers and ranchers with (a) direct or indirect gross farm sales of $176,800 or less (the 2015 amount; adjusted for inflation each year) in each of the previous 2 years and (b) total household income at or below the national poverty level for a family of four OR less than 50 percent of county median household income in each of the previous two years.
Loan Guarantee — A statutory commitment by the federal government to pay part or all of a loan’s principal and interest to a lender or the holder of a security in case the borrower defaults.
Management Practices — Changes in the management of agricultural production in the context of environmental programs, e.g., nutrient or manure management, integrated pest management, irrigation management, tillage or residue management, grazing management, etc.
Mandatory Funding – Funding not controlled by annual decisions of Congress in the annual appropriation bills. These funds are automatically obligated by virtue of previously-enacted laws. In the farm bill context, commodity programs, SNAP (food stamps), many conservation programs, and some research, marketing, rural development, and renewable energy programs receive mandatory funding through the farm bill. Also referred to as “direct” spending. “Entitlement” programs represent a specific type of mandatory spending in which recipients who qualify are entitled to the benefit without a specified funding limit for the program. Commodity programs and SNAP (food stamps), as well as Social Security and Medicare, are examples of entitlement programs.
Matching Funds — Funds that a grant recipient must provide from their own funds or from another source as a condition for receiving grant funds from a particular federal program. For some federal programs, matching funds may be “in cash” or “in kind” or in a combination. Many federal programs prohibit the match from being funding from another federal program.
National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) – The extramural research agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that administers competitive grants programs that fund agricultural research, education, and extension. The 2008 Farm Bill changes the name of USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) to NIFA beginning October 1, 2009. A scientist appointed by the President as NIFA Director for a 6-year term heads NIFA. The Director reports directly to the Secretary rather than through the Under Secretary for Research, Education and Extension.
National Organic Program –USDA organic regulatory program for organic agriculture, established under the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (part of the 1990 Farm Bill), that sets production, handling, and labeling standards for organic agricultural products. The NOP also accredits the certifying agents (foreign and domestic) who inspect organic production and handling operations to certify that they meet USDA standards.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – NRCS is the Federal agency that works in partnership with America’s private landowners and managers to conserve and sustain their soil, water, and other natural resources. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to accomplish these goals.
Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) — A formal statement published in the Federal Register announcing the availability of funds for a specific program and outlining how to apply for funds. Notice of Solicitation of Applications
Notice of Solicitation for Applications (NOSA) — A formal statement published in the Federal Register announcing the solicitation of applications for a specific program.
Operating Loan (OL) — Farm Service Agency (FSA) operating loans (OL) may be used to purchase livestock, farm equipment, feed, seed, fuel, farm chemicals, insurance, and other operating expenses. Operating Loans can also be used to pay for minor improvements to buildings, costs associated with land and water development, family living expenses, and to refinance debts under certain conditions. Operating loans are made under both direct and guaranteed programs to producers who cannot obtain funding without assistance from conventional lenders.
Organic Certification — The process by which agricultural products grown and processed according to USDA’s national organic standards are approved by a USDA-accredited State or private certification organization. Certifying agents review applications from farmers and processors for certification eligibility and qualified inspectors conduct annual onsite inspections of organic operations. Certifying agents determine whether operators are in compliance with organic production standards.
Organic Production – Production system managed in accordance with the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and subsequent Federal regulations. Organic production systems respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
Producer — An owner, operator, landlord, tenant, or sharecropper who shares in the risk of producing a crop and is entitled to share in the crop available for marketing from the farm, or would have shared had the crop been produced. As used in the farm bill, a producer includes crop share landlords but does not include cash rent landlords.
Proposed Rule – A proposed rule describes how an agency will implement a federal program. It provides the justification and analysis behind the need for a rule and the agency’s response to any public comment submitted in response to an advance notice of proposed rulemaking if there was an advance notice. It also includes the actual proposed regulatory language for the rule. Once a proposed rule is published, a public comment period begins, allowing the public to submit written comments to the agency. The agency is required to respond to each distinct issue raised in the comments. Depending on the complexity of the rule, comment periods may last for 30 days or a multi-month period of time.
Request for Applications (RFA) – A formal statement published in the Federal Register inviting submission of grant applications for a specific program.
Request for Proposals (RFP) — A formal statement published in the Federal Register inviting submission of grant proposals for a specific program.
Risk Management Agency (RMA) — USDA agency that administers programs of the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation.
Rural Development – USDA agency that provides technical assistance, grants, loans, and loan guarantees to help promote community and economic development in rural areas by supporting projects such as water and sewer systems, housing, health clinics, emergency service facilities, electric and telephone service, and rural businesses (including those based in agriculture, food, and farming).
Rural Microenterprise — A sole proprietorship or business entity with not more than 10 full-time equivalent employees located in a rural area.
Socially-Disadvantaged Farmer or Rancher (SDA) — A farmer or rancher who is a member of a group whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic (and in some cases gender) prejudice because of his or her identity as a member of the group. The definition of SDA farmers varies by Title within the farm bill; some titles include gender and some are limited to racial or ethnic groups.
Specialty Crops — Fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, nursery crops, and floriculture. Also referred to as horticulture crops.
Stewardship Threshold — A term used in the implementation of the Conservation Stewardship Program to describe the level of natural resource conservation and environmental management required under the CSP. The threshold level is one that improves and conserves the quality and condition of a natural resource and is generally the level that ensures the resource does not degrade but instead improves or regenerates.
Structural Practice — A practice that involves a constructed facility, land shaping, or permanent vegetative cover designed to preserve soil; reduce runoff of nutrient, sediment, and pesticides; enhance wildlife habitat; or other purposes. Examples include animal waste-management facilities, terraces, grassed waterways, contour grass strips, filter strips, tailwater pits, permanent wildlife habitats, and constructed wetlands. Note: Sometimes permanent vegetative cover practices are included as structural practices and sometimes they are referred to separately as vegetative practices.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – As of October 1, 2008 the name for the federal entitlement program, formerly known as the Federal Food Stamp Program, which provides low-income Americans with monthly cash benefits (distributed electronically through EBT cards) to help supplement an individual or family’s income for the purchas of nutritious food.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – A program administered by FNS that provides federal grants to States for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.
ACEP Agricultural Conservation Easement Program
AMA Agricultural Management Assistance Program
AFRI Agriculture and Food Research Initiative
BFRDP Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
BFRIDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Accounts
BCAP Biomass Crop Assistance Program
B&I Business and Industry Loan Program
CFP Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program
CIG Conservation Innovation Grants
CRP Conservation Reserve Program
CCRP Continuous Sign-up Conservation Reserve Program
CREP Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
CRP-TIP CRP Transition Incentives Program
CSP Conservation Stewardship Program
EQIP Environmental Quality Incentives Program
FRPP Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (now part of ACEP)
FMLFPP Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
FMNP Farmers Market Nutrition Program
F2S Farm to School Competitive Grant Program
FSFL Farm Storage Facility Loan Program
FSMIP Federal State Marketing Improvement Program
FINI Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program
GAP Good Agricultural Practices certification and audit program
GHP Good Handling Practices certification and audit program
GRP Grasslands Reserve Program (now part of ACEP)
LFDI Local Food Data Initiative
LRFE Local and Regional Food Enterprise Guaranteed Loan Program (part of B&I)
NOCCSP National Organic Certification Cost Share Program
ODI Organic Data Initiative
OREI Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
OASDFR Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers
RCPP Regional Conservation Partnership Program
RME Risk Management Education Program
RBDG Rural Business Development Grants
RBEG Rural Business Enterprise Grants
RBOG Rural Business Opportunity Grants
REAP Rural Energy for America Program
RMAP Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
SFMNP Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program
SCBG Specialty Crop Block Grants
SCRI Specialty Crop Research Initiative
VAPG Value-Added Produce Grants Program
WRP Wetlands Reserve Program (now part of ACEP)