NSAC's Blog

Final Round of “Section 2501” Funding Before Farm Bill Expires

March 20, 2018

Mississippi farmer Melvin Russell talks with his Senator's office about the importance of the Section 2501 Program. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik, 2018.

Mississippi farmer Melvin Russell talks with his Senator’s office about the importance of the Section 2501 Program. Photo credit: Reana Kovalcik, 2018.

Historically, farmers of color and military veterans have had inadequate access to and less than average rates of participation in programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These disparities have existed for a number of reasons, including inadequate outreach to these communities by USDA, and institutional discrimination.

In order to better serve farmers of color and veteran farmers (veterans were added to the program in the 2014 Farm Bill), Congress created the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the “Section 2501 Program”) nearly 30 years ago. USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO) administers the Section 2501 program, which 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.

Last week, USDA announced the availability of over $8 million in Section 2501 grants to help organizations conduct targeted outreach and provide technical assistance to veterans and farmers of color. The grants are available to support a range of outreach and assistance activities, including: farm management, financial management, marketing, and application and bidding procedures.

For project ideas, check out the last year’s Section 2501 grantees.

The 2018 Funding Cycle

OAO released the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the 2501 Program for fiscal year (FY) 2018 last week, and applicants will have just roughly two months to apply.

All applications must be submitted via grants.gov by 11:59 pm EST on May 15, 2018.

USDA will host two upcoming conference calls to answer questions from potential grantees: the first will be on March 28 at 2:00 pm EST, and the second on April 25 at 2:00 pm EST. Additional details on those calls are included in the FOA.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has been urging OAO to extend the time period for applicants to complete and submit their grant applications, and we are glad that our recommendation to extend the window to 60 days has been implemented. A longer application period gives non-profit and community-based organizations adequate time to thoughtfully complete the grant application process, thereby increasing the quantity and quality of grant applications from those applicants.

Details for Potential Applicants

This year’s FOA is largely unchanged from previous years. The maximum amount that organizations can apply for is $200,000 for a single year grant, though project applications can cover multiyear initiatives. Applicants for a multi-year initiative, however, will only be able to receive funding for one year and then must reapply for any additional funding. 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.

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
  • Introduce agricultural education targeting socially disadvantaged youth and beginning farmers and ranchers, in rural and persistent poverty communities

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

The Future of the 2501 Program

The Section 2501 program was reauthorized in the 2014 Farm Bill with $10 million per year in mandatory farm bill funding for fiscal years 2014 – 2018. This funding level was just half of the funding that had been available each year prior to 2014, despite Congress expanding the program’s target base to include military veterans.

Because the program’s authorization and funding expire this year (coinciding with the expiration of the farm bill on September 30, 2018), it is essential that Congress both reauthorize and secure funding for the program. The next farm bill must increase Section 2501 funding to at least $20 million annually, which is the level that was provided for the program before the 2014 Farm Bill slashed its funding in half and added veterans. For more information on other “tiny but mighty” farm bill programs that, like the 2501 program, will be left stranded without funding if the next farm bill is not reauthorized, check out our previous blog post.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Farm Bill, Grants and Programs

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