Note: This post has been updated to reflect changes made to the FY 2020 Request for Applications which was recently released on December 16, 2019. For further details on timing and updated application links, see below.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the availability of $14 million in grant funds to help launch new and expand existing programs to train beginning farmers and ranchers. These federal grants will be awarded through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which was newly reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill. To date, BFRDP remains the only USDA program specifically dedicated to training the next generation of America’s farmers and ranchers.
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), which administers BFRDP, formally released the Requests for Application (RFA) for fiscal year (FY) 2020 earlier this week. Organizations interested in applying for grant funding must submit an electronic application through Grants.gov by 5:00pm EST on Thursday March 19, 2020.
BFRDP is a competitive grants program that provides funding for educational, training, and technical assistance programs to assist beginning farmers and ranchers across the United States and U.S. territories. For over a decade, this program has helped aspiring producers to launch careers in agriculture, and beginning producers to maintain and grow successful farm and ranch enterprises.
BFRDP was recently reauthorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, as part of a new umbrella program – the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program. FOTO, which houses both BFRDP and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program (“Section 2501”), coordinates USDA training and outreach to beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers.
Grants issued by BFRDP support projects that address a variety of topics, including: livestock and crop farming practices; land transfer strategies; business, financial and risk management training; curriculum development; mentoring and apprenticeships; agricultural rehabilitation and vocational training for veterans; and farm safety.
For a summary of recently funded projects and funding trends, check out our previous blog post.
Anticipated funding for FY 2020 projects is $14 million per year – a decrease in funding from previous years. In creating FOTO, the new Farm Bill established permanent funding for BFRDP, but also cut annual funding in the first years of FOTO’s implementation. However, the recently released agriculture funding bill that would fund the government for the rest of FY 2020 provides additional funding for FOTO grants. Restoring historic funding levels for BFRDP has been a top priority for NSAC as part of our FY 2020 Appropriations Campaign.
Program Changes, 2018 Farm Bill
The new farm bill made several changes to BFRDP, which are reflected in this year’s RFA. One significant change, which was strongly advocated for by NSAC, is the increased emphasis on projects that support farm succession planning (also included as a new grant priority) and farmland transfer to new farmers. Specifically, projects may now be targeted towards retiring farmers and non-farming landowners so long as the ultimate aim of the project is to increase opportunities for beginning farmers.
Additional changes include:
- Grantees are now be eligible to request a waiver to the matching funds requirement if their project targets an “underserved area or population.”
- For grant projects under $50,000, USDA is offering a simplified grant application process (see RFA for additional details).
- Municipal agencies (as well as federal, state, and tribal governments) have been added as eligible applicants. Eligibility criteria otherwise remain roughly the same.
- Farmers must now be involved in BFRDP project design and implementation (included as a new evaluation criteria for grant proposals).
- New priority on projects that include components on food safety and recordkeeping.
- Scope of Educational Team (ET) projects is broadened to support not just new farmer curriculum development, but also train-the-trainer initiatives for service providers that work directly with beginning farmers.
Grant Types and Amount
Funding for two types of grants can be applied for through the FY 2020 RFA: Standard and Educational Team. Note: Clearinghouse grants were only offered in FY 2019 and will not be competed in FY 2020.
Standard BFRDP projects support new and established local and regional training, education, outreach and technical assistance initiatives for beginning farmers and ranchers. The maximum award for Standard Projects is limited to:
- $200,000 per year for up to three years for Large Standard Grants.
- $100,000 per year for up to three years for Small Standard Grants.
- $50,000 for up to one year for Simplified Standard Grants.
The same evaluation criteria are used for both small and large projects, including the priority for partnerships with non-profit and community-based organizations, but they will be evaluated separately. Refer to the RFA for evaluation criteria for simplified grants.
Up to $600,000 is available for Educational Team projects. These projects aim to identify gaps in beginning farmer and rancher training by evaluating all existing programs, and to develop and conduct train-the-trainer projects to address these gaps.
Note: For all grant types, all work must be completed within three years.
Eligibility and Matching Funds
Applications for BFRDP funding may only be submitted by a collaborative state, tribal, local, or regionally-based network or partnership of qualified public and/or private entities.
Eligible collaborations may include: community based organizations (CBOs); nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); State Cooperative Extension Services; Federal, State, municipal, or tribal agencies; colleges and universities; and private organizations. Inclusion of farmers and ranchers as part of the collaborative group is strongly encouraged. Priority will be given to partnerships with CBOs and NGOs, as well as those that address the needs of military veterans and farmers of color.
Evidence of farmer input on the proposed project is now required and will be used as an evaluation criterion in selecting grant applications to be funded.
Applicants must provide matching funds in the amount of 25 percent of the total project budget. However, applicants can request a waiver in order to effectively reach an underserved area or population – including farmers of color, limited resource farmers, veterans, women, persistently poor counties, geographically isolated rural communities, or urban growers.
For a full list of eligible project topics, please see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide or the BFRDP Request for Applications. For more information on BFRDP, including tips and best practices for applicants and a detailed analysis of the program’s performance to date, see NSAC’s newest beginning farmer resource – Cultivating the Next Generation. This report is the first comprehensive analysis of BFRDP’s performance and impact over time on beginning and veteran farmers and ranchers.
Additionally, NIFA held a stakeholder webinar earlier this year to answer questions from applicants about the RFA and application process. A link to the webinar recording can be found here. For additional program details, see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide, or refer to any of the following links: