Even the best designed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs can fail to find success if farmers don’t have the knowledge or tools to access them. In order to increase program awareness and participation among underserved farmer communities, last year the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) announced a new cooperative agreement that would develop innovative outreach and training opportunities for new and beginning farmers, veterans, underserved communities, and established producers of non-commodity crops.
Last week, FSA announced nearly $2.5 million in awards for 55 cooperative agreements to nonprofit organizations, universities, and foundations through the cooperative agreement program. Awards range from $20,000 to $75,000 and will be used to provide training and information on FSA programs that provide financial, disaster, and technical support.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauds FSA’s efforts to provide additional outreach and education to farmers and producers who have historically been underserved by the agency. NSAC congratulates all 55 partners and is proud to announce that 12 NSAC member organizations received cooperative agreement awards in this cycle. Member projects are detailed below:
- Angelic Organics Learning Center: Angelic Organics will work with more than 300 farmers from northern Illinois to southern Wisconsin to prepare them to apply for programs provided by FSA. Their focus will be on assisting beginning farmers in developing well-considered plans to improve the economic viability of their farms. Assistance will come in the form of technical assistance, financial education, and increased access to FSA programs and services. Through this project beginning, non-commodity crop producers will learn about FSA programs and how to successfully manage FSA loans.
- California FarmLink: California FarmLink will assist beginning, low-income and immigrant farmers and ranchers in applying for and securing financing, as well as provide credit and financial education assistance. This work will help farmers to stabilize their operations and prepare them for expansion over the long term. In partnership with the FSA, FarmLink will help farmers gain timely access to affordable loans to start or expand their businesses. In addition, FarmLink often combines their own lending with FSA loan guarantees and includes technical assistance to help borrowers build and maintain good credit.
Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA): The goal of CFRA’s cooperative agreement project is to increase the number of Latino farmers aware of, ready for, and accessing FSA loans and programs through a program of financial and borrower technical assistance. CFRA will increase awareness of FSA opportunities and CFRA support among Latino farmers by helping them to achieve financial and business development readiness and assisting them through the FSA loan application process.
CFRA will provide workshop and one-on-one financial and borrower training and technical assistance. They will also provide support for accessing FSA resources, including providing interpretation and walking participants through the process of meeting and applying for loans by leveraging their networks, prior and ongoing projects, and the connections they have built to provide comprehensive support for Latino farmer success. This project will build on CFRA’s prior work with Latino farmers and ranchers in target communities in Nebraska.
- Land Stewardship Project: The Land Stewardship Project will work with FSA, the National Farm Beginnings Collaborative (FBC) and regional partners to develop and adapt record-keeping tools, financial literacy and FSA program materials. They will create a corresponding curriculum to meet the needs of beginning farmers, while preparing them to utilize FSA programs. These tools and curriculum will increase the capacity of beginning farmers through adoption of strong financial management practices increasing their opportunity to build assets through participating FSA programs.
- Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES): MOSES will work with FSA to develop resources to teach beginning and women farmers how to access FSA loans and to guide them through the loan process. These resources will include on-demand webinars available on their website and in a printed guide. The webinars will explain the types of loans and microloans FSA offers and help farmers understand the materials required to begin the loan application process. MOSES will work with outside partners to develop the curriculum for these webinars.
- National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC): NYFC received two awards. The first award will support the development of a series of on-farm events with NYFC members and county FSA staff. These events will include a tour of a farm that has successfully used an FSA program, so that participants can see FSA programs at work and talk with their local staff about the application process. The second award will be used to develop a farmer-focused guidebook on FSA programs for financing farm ownership and operating expenses.
- Northeast Organic Farming Association – New York (NOFA-NY): NOFA-NY will support FSA in New York State to expand access to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to organic farmers by leveraging its existing Price Index tool and providing third party data collection and analysis on organic prices, including direct market pricing on non-commodity products. This project will support improved FSA program integrity by accurately setting prices and expanding the premium price options to more than 1000 certified organic producers in New York State, including beginning farmers and the increasing number of minority, women, and veteran organic growers. The project goals will be completed collaboratively with input from FSA at the state and county levels, and with expert consultation and partnership with Mason Digital Marketing, the firm that designed the existing NOFA-NY Price Index.
- Practical Farmers of Iowa: Practical Farmers of Iowa and Lutheran Services in Iowa will provide outreach, education and technical assistance to Iowa beginning farmers on financial literacy, recordkeeping and FSA programs to increase access to FSA programs and improve beginning farmers’ success in establishing viable farm businesses. This work will reach beginning farmers who come to Practical Farmers for help, including women, veterans and refugee farmers. Lutheran Services of Iowa will be relied upon to conduct outreach to the refugee farmer communities in Iowa, where extra support is needed to cross language and cultural barriers. The goal of the project is to help Iowa beginning farmers create successful farms that increase the diversity and sustainability of Iowa agriculture, and to connect beginning farmers to FSA and improving their financial literacy and recordkeeping practices.
In addition to the projects above, the following NSAC members also received cooperative agreement awards: National Center for Appropriate Technology, Oregon Tilth, Rural Advancement Foundation International, and World Farmers.
NSAC has also received a cooperative agreement award from FSA that will be used to develop a resource guide to help target and inform beginning, socially disadvantaged, urban, and local food producers about USDA and FSA assistance programs. The resource guide will focus on programs that farmers may not be familiar with, that are underutilized by these groups, or that have undergone recent changes to improve their utility within these groups. NSAC hopes that FSA field offices will be able to use the guide as an entry point in reaching out to these farmers, as well as a valuable communication tool to start the conversation of what programs are available to help build sustainable and viable farming operations.
Additional Funding Available
The initial Request for Applications (RFA) was announced in September 2015 and provided four evaluation periods between November 2015 and May 2016. Due to a higher than expected level of interest, FSA revised the RFA evaluation periods and scheduled the final deadline for July 11, 2016. For more information review the RFA or view an archived recording of the Cooperative Agreement Information Session webinar available on the FSA website. Any additional questions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.