June 27, 2016
For decades, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the “2501 Program”) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the needs of family farmers and ranchers of color.
Over the past 20 years, the 2501 program has invested millions of dollars into our nation’s community-based organizations, land grant universities, and cooperative extension. This funding has been used by grant recipients to develop and strengthen innovative outreach and technical assistance programs and other resources targeted at historically underserved producers.
This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of nearly ten million dollars to support dedicated outreach and technical assistance programs to reach underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers in order to increase their participation in federal loan, conservation, and rural development programs.
The 2016 Funding Cycle
Grant proposals for this year’s funding cycle are due July 29, which gives organizations a much shorter application window than previous years.
Many applicants to the 2501 program are non-profit and community-based organizations that work directly with farmers of color across the country, and may unfortunately, have minimal resources with which to meet such a quick turnaround for grant applications. NSAC has persistently urged USDA consider the needs and abilities of small-medium-scale farmers and food/farm organizations when issuing calls for proposals or funding opportunities. We will continue to work with USDA to expand the application period for 2501 FOAs to at least sixty days in future funding cycles.
The rationale for the very short window to submit proposals this year is the extreme lateness in releasing the funding availability notice. Normally such a request for proposals would be issued early in the fiscal year, during the winter months. Releasing the notice at the end of the ninth month of the fiscal year necessitates a short period to submit proposals and still allow for proposal review, evaluation, and awards during the remainder of the fiscal year. This unfortunate situation should never be repeated again. NSAC will continue to advocate for better systems to be put in place at USDA for this important program.
The fiscal year (FY) 2016 FOA has five priority areas, and all project proposals must address at least two of them:
The priority on youth projects in targeted zones has been designated by USDA as high-priority, and is a new focus of the program this year.
Grant projects cannot exceed $200,000 and must be limited to one year. Applicants can, however, propose a multi-year initiative, but it will only be funded for one year at a time and must re-compete for future funding in subsequent funding cycles.
Organizations may only submit one proposal for funding. No match is required.
Non-profit and community-based organizations are eligible and encouraged to apply for funding from this program.
For More Information
2014 Farm Bill Cut Funding; More Funding Needed
When NSAC member organization, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) received funding from the 2501 program, they were able to help local Latino farmer Javier Zamora achieve his dream of running a thriving organic farm.
“If we didn’t have these programs, I don’t think I would have made it to where I am,” said Javier. “Without Section 2501 I wouldn’t have been able to make my dream of farming come true. I am who I am because organizations like ALBA and support from USDA’s grant programs made these opportunities happen for me. I am going where I am going because of their support.”
Javier started with a 1.5-acre farm in 2011; thanks to 2501 funding he now operates over 40 acres on his California farm, JSM Organic Farms. Javier and JSM grow mostly strawberries, along with an assortment of vegetables, heirloom tomatoes in the summer, and organic flowers.
Despite the strong, historic impact of this program, mandatory funding for 2501 was dramatically cut in the 2014 Farm Bill – from $20 million to $10 million per year. This funding cut couldn’t have come at a worse time; legislators cut funding to 2501 at the same time they expanded the program to also serve the influx of returning military veterans seeking assistance in pursing a career in farming – leaving 2501 with a larger-than-ever applicant base and an abysmal funding outlook.
Underinvestment in the 2501 program ultimately shortchanges our nation’s most chronically underserved farmers and ranchers. By not supporting a program that helps veterans and historically underserved producers to develop and/or maintain viable food and farm businesses, legislators are betting against the future of American agriculture.
This Year’s Appropriations Bill Could Help
Congress has yet to finalize a bill to fund USDA programs and activities for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Draft agriculture funding bills have been approved by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, but have not yet been scheduled for floor debate.
The Senate’s bill provides $3 million in additional funding for the 2501 program. This is far less than the $10 million NSAC, the President, and our allies have requested, but will at least channel some urgently needed resources into this critical program, in contrast to the House bill, which provides no additional funding for 2501.
Throughout this year’s funding debate in Congress, NSAC has advocated for increased funding for the 2501 program. Our member organizations and farmer advocates have urged legislators to restore total program funding to its historical level in order to meet the increased demand for outreach and technical assistance by minority and military veteran farmers. We will continue to advocate for additional funding for the 2501 program throughout the FY 2017 appropriations process and hope the final bill includes, at a minimum, the $3 million in additional funding provided in the pending Senate bill.