October 22, 2019
For three decades, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the “Section 2501” program) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of farmers of color. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 projects will expand upon these efforts to ensure socially disadvantaged (SDA) farmers’ long-term success in agriculture thanks to increased financial support.
The Section 2501 program award funds increased by $7 million compared to last year’s funding cycle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced over $16 million for FY 2019 Section 2501 program grant awards for 33 projects that aim to connect SDA farmers with USDA resources.
However, due to cuts in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Section 2501 program is still not funded at its historic levels. Currently, additional funding for the program is being negotiated in Congress as the House and Senate review the differences between their two spending bills passed earlier this year.
Luckily, the 2018 Farm Bill made significant changes to Section 2501 by combining this grant program with the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) into one new program: the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program. Through FOTO, Congress provided both BFRDP and Section 2501 with permanent baseline funding, while maintaining each program’s core functions. FOTO funds are divided equally between Section 2501 and BFRDP, with each program receiving $15 million in mandatory funding for FY 2019. Section 2501 received an additional $3 million in discretionary funding in FY 2019.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is currently advocating for FOTO to receive $10 million in additional discretionary funding to be split evenly between BFRDP and Section 2501 for FY 2020. The House bill includes this ask, but the Senate bill does not. NSAC will continue to advocate for $10 million in discretionary funding for FOTO during conference negotiations to ensure a funding increase for the Section 2501 program next year.
The increased funds for FY 2019 projects are helping to level the playing field for our nation’s most chronically underserved farmers. While funding for FY 2019 increased, fewer awards were made; as a result, each award recipient received more funding in FY 2019.
The Section 2501 program was created in 1990 to address the historic inequities in accessing USDA services that farmers of color faced. In the 2014 Farm Bill, military veterans were also added as qualified participants in the program. As mentioned, the 2018 Farm Bill combined the Section 2501 program and BFRDP to strengthen USDA’s efforts to train and assist beginning, veteran, tribal and other underserved farmers.
The goal of Section 2501 is to increase historically underserved farmers’ awareness of and access to USDA resources and technical/financial assistance. Both farmers of color and military veteran farmers are growing sectors of the U.S. farm economy, and have an important role to play in the future of U.S. agriculture.
For more information on the Section 2501 program, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.
NSAC congratulates all of this year’s Section 2501 grant recipients. We are also excited to acknowledge the hard-working and dedicated community-based organizations that provide essential support directly to SDA farmers every day, including the following NSAC member organizations:
“The Center for Rural Affairs is excited to work with USDA and PFI on encouraging Latinos to farm,” said Sandra Renner, Program Director for CFRA. “Many Latinos have an agriculture background and want to either add more enterprises to their farms or wish to explore farming opportunities. This project’s goal is to get them started on their path, encouraging stability by diversification.”
“Practical Farmers of Iowa is excited to partner with the Center for Rural Affairs to provide outreach and education to current and aspiring Latino farmers in Iowa and Nebraska,” said Greg Padget, PFI’s Next Generation Director. “Funding received through USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program is vital to ensuring this work can be done.”
“MIFFS is thrilled to receive funding through USDA’s Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program,” said Jennifer Silveri, MIFFS Director of Field Operations. “This funding is critical support for beginning, veteran, and limited resource farmers across Michigan, and the new three-year grant period will allow MIFFS to sustainably build stronger programming to increase equitable access to resources for historically underserved farmers.”
“NCAT is pleased to partner with USDA’s 2501 program to further our work with veterans and socially disadvantaged farmers,” said Margo Hale, NCAT Southeast Regional Director. “The funding will be used to expand NCAT’s Armed to Farm program, a week-long training program for military veterans interested in starting and running sustainable farms. We will also be hosting networking events, producing educational materials, and providing one-on-one technical assistance to military veteran farmers, including socially-disadvantaged veteran farmers.”
For this analysis, the grant awarded to Alcorn State University is excluded. Alcorn State University received a grant that provides funding for the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center (Policy Center) for FY 2020. The Policy Center was established under the 2014 Farm Bill and receives yearly funding.
For all other awards, over 70 percent of FY 2019 grants were awarded to projects led by community-based (CBO) and non-profit organizations, which was a larger percentage than last year. The average grant award was just over $490,000, with projects led by CBO and non-profit organizations securing larger grant awards than university-led projects.
In terms of regional distribution, FY 2019 grants were evenly distributed across the country with the Southern and Western regions of the country receiving slightly more awards than the Northeast and Northcentral regions. Many FY 2019 projects located in the South will serve a variety of communities, including Native American, Hispanic, African-American, and youth. Many of these projects focus on increasing producer participation in government programs, providing education on farm practices and profitability, and providing technical supporting in accessing information and participating in USDA programs. Over quarter of grant funding will reach farmers of color in the Western region; these projects have targeted several different farming communities, including Alaska Native, African-American, Native Hawaiian, and tribal producers, as well as youth.
The Northcentral region received the least amount of funding, where projects primarily target Native American, immigrant, Latino, and Hmong communities. The Northeast received slightly less than a quarter of total grant funding to support projects serving refugees, youth, and more urban constituents.
Over 40 percent of grants this year include outreach to both socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers. Six percent of grants focus solely on outreach and technical assistance to veterans, and about half of the projects are devoted solely to underserved communities.
Hopefully, for FY 2020, the Section 2501 program will continue to see an increase in the amount of available funds for projects that work to provide underserved farmers with the tools they need to thrive and compete in the agricultural economy.
As part of FOTO, Section 2501 and BFRDP have protected mandatory funding each year. Unfortunately, the level of mandatory funding provided for FY 2020 is inadequate to meet program demand, and it represents a cut in funding from historic funding levels provided under the 2008 Farm Bill. An additional $10 million in discretionary funding for FOTO, split between the two programs, would restore both programs to their historic funding levels for the FY 2020 grant cycle and allow both programs to reach more underserved farmers.
Both chambers of Congress have passed their spending bills, and now it’s conference time. The Senate bill provides $3 million for 2501 grants (which is the same amount of funding provided for FY 2019) and no funding for BFRDP. In contrast, the House bill provides FOTO with $10 million in discretionary funding split evenly between 2501 and BFRDP. Throughout conference negotiations, NSAC will advocate in support of the House-passed funding levels for sustainable agriculture priorities.
However, as noted in our earlier post, there is a $15 billion difference between the overall level of spending the House used to write their appropriations bills and what was provided for in the two-year budget deal, which the Senate relied on to write their bill. As a result, the higher levels of funding for agriculture programs in the House bill must decrease, meaning funding for at least some of NSAC’s priorities are on the chopping block. We will continue to provide analysis and action opportunities on the NSAC blog and via our Action Alerts as the FY 2020 appropriations process continues to move forward.