July 28, 2021
Historically, farmers of color have been unable to participate in or benefit from USDA programs to the same extent as their white neighbors. This presents an enormous challenge for farmers of color when they are looking to start or maintain viable and resilient careers in farming. Rising costs and limited availability of farmland, access to markets and infrastructure, discrimination, and the worsening impacts of the climate crisis and natural disasters are just some of the challenges these farmers face. In an effort to increase support and funding to assist the operations of farmers of color, women, and military veterans (known collectively as “socially disadvantaged farmers” in statute), USDA created the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, more commonly known as the “2501 Program,” administered by USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE). The 2501 program helps to ensure that historically underserved producers have equitable access to the information, programs, and opportunities that will help them to find success in agriculture.
This week, after several delays, USDA announced the availability of $16.6 million in 2501 grants to help organizations conduct targeted outreach and provide technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers. The grants are to support a range of outreach and assistance activities including: farm management, financial management, marketing, and application and bidding procedures. Since USDA published the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) later than anticipated, applicants will have just one month (30 days) to submit their applications by the August 25, 2021 deadline.
All applications must be submitted via grants.gov by 11:59 pm EST on August 25, 2021.
USDA will host two upcoming webinars to answer questions from potential grantees: the first will be on July 28 at 2pm EDT,(Web conference link – ems8.intellor.com/login/839760) and the second on August 10 at 2:00 pm EDT (Web conference link – ems8.intellor.com/login/839761).
Additional details on those webinars are included in the FOA.
The maximum amount that organizations can apply for is $250,000 for a single year, with a grant maximum amount of $750,000 over a 3-year period – an increase from last year’s offering. There is no match required for applications and only one project proposal may be submitted per eligible entity. Grant funding will be awarded to three categories of applicants:
Organizations must have demonstrated expertise in working with underserved, socially disadvantaged and/or veteran farmer communities during the 3-year period preceding the submission of the application.
USDA is soliciting project proposals that address the following program priorities, which are unchanged from last year:
2501 Background and Continuing Challenges
Similar to years past, this funding announcement is significantly delayed, being released only a few months before the end of the fiscal year, when all grant funding must be obligated by USDA (September 30). Not surprisingly, stakeholders have been frustrated by these delays and NSAC has flagged this as an urgent issue that must be addressed by USDA or Congress. With a national pandemic continuing to impact the entire food system – including farmers of color and the community-based organizations who support them – it is unacceptable for USDA to provide organizations only 30 days to prepare and submit complex and time-consuming grant applications.
The 2018 Farm Bill combined the 2501 program with the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) into a new umbrella program: the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program. Congress mandates that FOTO funds be divided equally between Section 2501 and BFRDP, with each program to receive $15 million in mandatory funding for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Congress provided the 2501 program with an additional $2.5 million in discretionary funding in FY 2020, bringing total grant funding to $17.5 million. However, NSAC was disappointed with the FY 2020 cycle when USDA redirected funds Congress provided to support a separate, administratively created initiative. Only $12.8 million was invested in 2501 grants in 2020. FOTO received an additional $75 million from the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020 in December 2020, and while the BFRDP funds have been allocated, it is expected that the 2501 funds will be granted over the next few years though no details have been announced.)
This year (FY 2021), the program is to receive $17.5 million in mandatory funding. While $16.6 million offered this year is lower than the mandated level, the increasing number of applicants and awardees means that, on average, each project will receive less funding; smaller projects mean fewer grassroots opportunities to reach and provide critical assistance to BIPOC and veteran farmers. Given the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic, it is critical that these underserved communities have the knowledge, tools, and connections needed to access USDA resources and funds, including emergency COVID-19 relief programs.
For project ideas, a full listing and descriptions of 2020 Section 2501 (and CCP) projects can be found here.
More information on the 2501 program, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.