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A Record $35 Million Now Available to Support Historically Underserved and Veteran Farmers

March 23, 2022

A Record $35 Million Now Available to Support Historically Underserved and Veteran Farmers
Photo credit: USDA

Earlier this month, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a record $35 million in funding for 2501 grants, almost $20 million more than was available in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021, to help organizations conduct targeted outreach and provide technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers. The Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, more commonly known as the “2501 Program,” and administered by USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE), 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 funding includes approximately $18 million provided in the 2018 Farm Bill, (note: the 2018 Farm Bill mandated $20 million for FY 2022) with an additional $17 million in released funds from the Coronavirus Response and Relief section of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act. 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) significantly earlier than last year, applicants will have three months (90 days) to submit their applications by the June 8, 2022 deadline.

All applications must be submitted via grants.gov by 11:59 pm EDT on June 8, 2022.

USDA will host two upcoming webinars to answer questions from potential grantees. 

March 31, 2022 at 2:00 pm EDT

Web conference link – https://www.zoomgov.com/​webinar/​register/​WN_​deGz0uf9TIyNPkkuvRfxUA

May 4, 2022 at 2:00 pm EDT

Web conference link – https://www.zoomgov.com/​webinar/​register/​WN_​29_​qm0hxTbeYw2I9e2QAfw

Additional details on those webinars are included in the FOA.

Program Background

For farmers of color, starting and managing a successful farming operation can present unique and difficult challenges. Farmers of color have not historically benefitted from vital USDA safety net programs to the same extent as their white counterparts, often due to overt discrimination, limited resources, and USDA’s inadequate outreach to these communities. This disparity disadvantages farmers of color in both the national and global economy and stifles the growth and prosperity of rural communities. As a result, there are often enormous challenges 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 of 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.  

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 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 the 2501 funds will be granted over the next few years.

Program Eligibility

Organizations can apply for a maximum amount of $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:

  • Category 1 – Minority serving academic institutions (e.g., 1890 and 1994 Land Grant Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions)
  • Category 2 – Non-profit, community-based organizations, and Indian Tribes
  • Category 3 – Academic institutions and organizations (e.g., 1862 Land Grant Universities, including those that received funding under this program before January 1, 1996)

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:

  • Assist socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers in owning and operating successful farms and ranches;
  • Improve participation among socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers in USDA programs;
  • Build relationships between current and prospective socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers and USDA’s local, state, regional and national offices;
  • Introduce agriculture-related information to socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers through innovative outreach and technical assistance techniques; and
  • Introduce agricultural education targeting socially disadvantaged youth and beginning farmers and ranchers, in rural and persistent poverty communities.

Continuing Challenges for the 2501 Program

There have been many challenges with the administration of the 2501 program, including funding cuts and significant delays in the publication of the funding announcement. Such delays, like the one last year, gave applicants only 30 days to prepare and submit complex and time-consuming grant applications. Not surprisingly, stakeholders have been frustrated by these problems, and NSAC has recommended the agency improve its oversight and accessibility of the program.

In FY 2021, the program received its $17.5 million in mandatory funding, with no additional funding from emergency COVID-19 relief programs.  

For FY 2022, NSAC is glad to see the 2501 program receive its full mandatory funding of $18 million, as well as $17 million in COVID relief funds. In addition, the funding announcement was published early to give applicants 3 months (90 days) to apply for funding. While the 2501 program has been plagued with challenges, NSAC applauds USDA for its efforts this year. NSAC will continue to work to increase funding for the program, make sure nonprofits and community-based organizations working directly with underserved farmers are eligible and are receiving awards, and continue to ensure this program is serving the farming community it is meant to serve.

FY 2021 2501 Projects

USDA made its FY 2021 awards with very little fanfare. 29 organizations were awarded grants, including several NSAC members working directly with underrepresented farmers.  An even mix of university institutions, including many 1890 land-grant universities, and several community based organizations received awards to educate, train and mentor farmers.

A full list and descriptions of the 2021 Section 2501 (and CCP) projects can be found here.

  • Future Harvest Inc, an NSAC coalition member, received funding to partner with Common Grain Alliance and Fields 4 Valor to create a tailored learning experience for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and veteran farmers to advance agriculture excellence and leadership building through purposeful enrichment.
  • The University of Maryland Eastern Shore, an 1890 Land-Grant Institution, received funding to build on the success of a two-day farm conference program. The purpose of the conference is to connect socially disadvantaged (SDA) and veteran farmers/landowners to appropriate agricultural resources that will increase their ability to start and maintain successful agricultural businesses. The program also trains and assists agriculture producers on how to become more business and market savvy during COVID-19 and in uncertain times and introduces and educates farmers on alternative crop opportunities along with new farm management practices to promote diversification and sustainability.  
  • The Agriculture Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), another NSAC coalition member, received funding to implement their “Farmers access Resources, Education and Enterprise Development (FREED)” Project. FREED will support 200 socially disadvantaged farmers who benefit from on-farm education, subsidized farmland and farm equipment, and hands-on business and production assistance from ALBA and partners. New entrants to the program will enroll in a year-long, 240-hour course designed to prepare them to launch organic farms.
  • The Kodiak Archipelago Leadership Institute received funding to support the establishment of a regional network of Alaska Native farmers in the Alutiiq Homeland of the Kodiak Archipelago in support of economic development and regional food security. At least 25 Alaska Natives will participate in the project’s technical assistance activities. At least 8 Alaska Native-owned farms will obtain financial and operational sustainability by September 2023. 

For more information on the 2501 program, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Carousel, General Interest, Grants and Programs, Research, Education & Extension

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