NSAC's Blog


RFA Roundup: Spring 2020 Funding Opportunities

March 4, 2020


Nice Farms Creamery in Federalsburg, Maryland. Photo credit: USDA Photo by Preston Keres.

Editor’s Note: As the COVID-19 situation progresses, we will continue to update this blog with the latest available information on deadline extensions. Additionally, you can find information on administrative flexibilities issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) here. This is a key reference for anyone currently working under an active federal grant. The memo informs agencies that they have flexibility to extend deadlines, indirect cost rates, offer no-cost extensions, provide flexibility with reporting/audit requirements, etc. However, it doesn’t require that agencies adopt these measures. Readers can use the OMB memo as a guide to understand what flexibility can be requested of a given agency or program even if it has not been offered outright. Last updated: April 23, 2020.

With the fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget in place, USDA has begun releasing funding opportunities for FY 2020. While a flood of grant program announcements is generally good news, with so many coming out at the start of a busy year, it can be easy to lose track of deadlines and other important information. In order to help you cut through the chaos and keep track of the deadlines that matter to your food and farm businesses and organizations, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has put together a summary of currently active Requests for Applications (RFAs) as part of our ongoing efforts to help farmers and advocates stay up to date with federal policy and funding opportunities. Open RFAs are listed below in order of the application deadline (soonest to furthest out).

For more detailed information on these and other USDA grant programs, see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Food and Farm Programs.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) – Foundational and Applied Science Program, Deadlines for Applications and Letters of Intent (LOI) Vary by Program Area

AFRI, USDA’s the largest competitive research grant program, funds research, education and extension projects that address food and agricultural systems. AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program invests in research, education, and extension projects that support more sustainable, productive, and economically viable agricultural systems. Specifically, the program’s focus is to drive innovation to improve farm efficiency, sustainability, rural communities, human nutrition, as well as mitigating food waste, and advancing classical plant and animal breeding.

A few subprogram deadlines are highlighted below. For a full list of subprogram deadlines for LOIs and applications, visit NIFA’s website.

  • Small and Medium-Sized Farms: no LOI; applications due April 30, 2020 (extended from March 5, 2020)
  • Rapid Response to Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) Impacts Across Food and Agricultural Systems: no LOI; applications due June 4, 2020. Read our blog post more information on this program.

Earlier this year, NIFA announced the availability of $192.6 million for AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program in FY 2020. Letters of intent and applications must be submitted electronically through grants.gov. For more information on AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program, see NSAC’s recent blog post on the RFA opportunity.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), Deadlines Vary by Region and Grant Program

SARE is USDA’s only competitive grants program with a clear and consistent focus on farmer-driven research. SARE is administered through four regional councils that represent the Northeast, North Central, Southern, and Western parts of the U.S. These regional councils of producers, researches, educators, government representatives are responsible for setting SARE policies and grant making processes for their regions.

Each SARE region administers three primary grant programs: Research and Education, Professional Development, and Producer Grants. Deadlines for active grant applications are listed below.

  • Southern SARE
    • Graduate Student Grants – May 1, 2020
    • Research and Education Grants – Pre-proposals due June 5, 2020
  • Western SARE
    • Research and Education Grants – Pre-proposals due May 22, 2020
      • Western SARE is not extending the deadline for submission, because it is a call for pre-proposals. Many supporting documents are not required for pre-proposals, which should reduce challenges that institutions face working remotely due to COVID-19. Please contact wsare@montana.edu with questions or specific issues.

Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) On-Farm Trials, Deadline Extended: May 29, 2020

The CIG program supports science-based solutions that benefit both farmers and the environment. As a subprogram of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), CIG projects are intended as a stepping-stone for farmers to implement more innovative conservation management systems, approaches, and technologies on their land. CIGs are designed to support collaboration between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partners to implement innovative on-the-ground conservation activities and evaluate their impacts. Participating farmers and ranchers receive payments to offset the risk and investments for testing out new conservation approaches.

For 2020, USDA’s NRCS announced the availability of $25 million in funding to advance the adoption and evaluation of innovative conservation practices on agricultural lands. The funding is for on-farm trials, a sub-program of the CIG program.

Applications must be submitted online through grants.gov. To learn more about CIG On-Farm Trials, read NSAC’s recent blog on the RFA and our Grassroots Guide.

Alternative Funding Arrangement (AFA) under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), Deadline Extended: May 29, 2020

Through RCPP, NRCS partners with state agencies and non-governmental organizations to provide financial and technical assistance to farmers to install conservation activities that tackle priority natural resource concerns in a state or region. The purpose of RCPP is to further the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife, agricultural land, and related natural resources on eligible land on a regional or watershed scale. Through AFA, NRCS can make up to 15 awards per fiscal year to provide RCPP funding directly to eligible partners using a grant-like approach. AFA RCPP projects provide funding to partners, which in turn are responsible for working with and providing funding to producers and landowners for eligible conservation activities.

For 2020, NRCS has announced the availability of $50 million for AFA RCPP projects. Applications must be submitted electronically through the RCPP portal. For more information on RCPP, see NSAC’s blog post on the RFA and our Grassroots Guide.

Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), Deadline Extended: May 26, 2020

Per the 2018 Farm Bill, FMLFPP is now part of the newly created Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). As part of LAMP, FMLFPP is paired with the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and provided with permanent funding – the core functions and operating practices of FMLFPP remain largely the same, however. Administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the program provides grants on a competitive basis for a wide spectrum of direct-to consumer and local food marketing projects, and is administered as two subprograms: the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). Both subprograms provide capacity and technical assistance grants, as well as planning and implementation grants for food enterprises and producers who wish to expand their access to local food markets.

For FY 2020, AMS has announced the availability of $27 million for FMLFPP. Applications must be submitted electronically through grants.gov.

For more information on FMLFPP, see NSAC’s latest FMLFPP RFA blog and our Grassroots Guide.

Regional Food System Partnership (RFSP), Deadline Extended: May 26, 2020

RFSP facilitates foodshed-level approaches to developing regional food economies, and new functions to support value chain coordination, food safety infrastructure development, and food safety certification. Administered by AMS, this program provides competitive grant funding to support multi-stakeholder partnerships and encourage foodshed-level approaches to planning and developing local/regional food economies. The program seeks to connect public and private resources to plan and develop local/regional food systems, focusing on strengthening local/regional food economy viability and resilience. Eligible partners include but are not limited to: food councils, farmer cooperatives, state agencies, and Farm Credit System lenders. Find out more about the program and process to apply here.

For 2020, AMS has announced the availability of $10 million for RFSP. Applications must be submitted electronically through grants.gov.

For more information on RFSP, see NSAC’s blog on the RFA and our blog on the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), an umbrella program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill streamlined FMLFPP and VAPG and created new initiatives like RFSP.

Deadlines That Have Passed

Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG), Deadline: March 5, 2020 (for online applications) and March 10, 2020 (for paper applications)

VAPG is a subprogram of the newly created Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) that provides competitive grants to individual independent agricultural producers, groups of independent producers, producer-controlled entities, organizations representing agricultural producers, and farmer or rancher cooperatives to create or expand value-added producer-owned businesses. Priority is given to projects that increase opportunities for small and mid-sized family farms, and/or for beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

USDA Rural Development announced the availability of at least $37 million in funding for VAPG projects and a 90 day application period. A webinar for prospective applicants hosted by USDA Rural Development and NSAC can be found here. Electronic applications must be submitted through grants.govFor more information on VAPG, see NSAC’s recent blog post on the RFA opportunity.

Extension Risk Management Education (ERME) for Producers Underserved by Crop Insurance, Deadline: March 26, 2020 (for all four regions)

The four regional ERME Centers announced a funding opportunity for projects that help farm and ranch families succeed through targeted risk management strategies. The program is administered by NIFA and awards grants to any extension or nonprofit organization engaging in risk management education and training. ERME projects deliver results/outcome-based risk management education and training programs to agricultural producers and their families, who are underserved by the Federal crop insurance program. The purpose of these projects is to address one or more of the five primary sources of agricultural risk: production, marketing, financial, legal, and human risk. The objective is to help underserved producers, like beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, understand the risks inherent in their operation and to equip them with the methods and tools available to mitigate these risks.

Each region’s announcement of this funding opportunity can be found online: North Central, Northeast, Southern, and Western. Seven to eight awards of up to $100,000 are expected to be made in each region. All applications must be submitted through the Extension Risk Management online Results Verification System (RVS). For more information on ERME, see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), Deadline Extended: April 2, 2020

The 2018 Farm Bill moved BFRDP under the newly created Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (FOTO), an umbrella program that combines, streamlines, and provides permanent funding for BFRDP and the Section 2501 program. BFRDP is the only USDA program specifically dedicated to training the next generation of America’s farmers and ranchers. The program funds projects that provide educational, training, and technical assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers across the United States and its territories.

For FY 2020, NIFA announced the availability of $14 million for BFRDP projects. Electronic applications must be submitted through grants.gov. For more information on BFRDP, see NSAC’s recent blog post on the RFA, our Grassroots Guide, or our Cultivating the Next Generation Guide for more info on tips and best practices for applicants and a detailed analysis of the program’s performance to date.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) – Foundational and Applied Science Program, Deadlines for Applications and Letters of Intent (LOI) Vary by Program Area

AFRI, USDA’s the largest competitive research grant program, funds research, education and extension projects that address food and agricultural systems. AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program invests in research, education, and extension projects that support more sustainable, productive, and economically viable agricultural systems. Specifically, the program’s focus is to drive innovation to improve farm efficiency, sustainability, rural communities, human nutrition, as well as mitigating food waste, and advancing classical plant and animal breeding.

A few subprogram deadlines are highlighted below. For a full list of subprogram deadlines for LOIs and applications, visit NIFA’s website.

  • Plant Breeding for Agricultural Production: no LOI; applications due April 2, 2020 (extended from March 19, 2020)
  • Soil Health: no LOI; application due April 9, 2020 (extended from April 2, 2020)
  • Water Quantity and Quality: no LOI; applications due April 9, 2020 (extended from April 2, 2020)
  • Sustainable Biomass Feedstock Systems: no LOI; applications due April 9, 2020 (extended from April 2, 2020)
  • Sustainable Agroecosystems: Health, Functions, Processes and Management: no LOI; applications due April 16, 2020 (extended from April 9, 2020)
  • Rural Economic Development: no LOI; applications due April 16, 2020

Earlier this year, NIFA announced the availability of $192.6 million for AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program in FY 2020. Letters of intent and applications must be submitted electronically through grants.gov. For more information on AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program, see NSAC’s recent blog post on the RFA opportunity.

Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), Deadline: April 7, 2020

FSOP funded programs are designed to help producers come into compliance with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) rules. FSOP funds community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, cooperative extension, and local, state, and tribal governments’ training and technical assistance programs focused on food safety.

For FY 2020, NIFA has announced the availability of $8 million for FSOP. Electronic applications for FSOP must be submitted through grants.gov. For more information on FSOP, see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE), Deadlines Vary by Region and Grant Program

SARE is USDA’s only competitive grants program with a clear and consistent focus on farmer-driven research. SARE is administered through four regional councils that represent the Northeast, North Central, Southern, and Western parts of the U.S. These regional councils of producers, researches, educators, government representatives are responsible for setting SARE policies and grant making processes for their regions.

Each SARE region administers three primary grant programs: Research and Education, Professional Development, and Producer Grants. Deadlines for active grant applications are listed below.

  • North Central SARE
    • Professional Development Grants – April 2, 2020
    • Graduate Student Grants – April 9, 2020
      • In light of COVID-19 complications, North Central SARE is allowing a grace period of up to one week on submission of proposals. Contact the grant program coordinators if circumstances are preventing you from submitting your proposal by the published deadline.
  • Northeast SARE
    • Partnership Grants – April 14, 2020
      • Northeast SARE recognizes that COVID-19-related delays or closures may hinder applicants’ ability to obtain the necessary authorized signature on the required Partnership Grant Commitment Form. If this is the case, please contact Northeast SARE by no later than April 7, 2020.
    • Graduate Student Grants – April 21, 2020
      • Northeast SARE recognizes that COVID-19-related delays or closures may hinder applicants’ ability to obtain the necessary authorized signature on the required Grant Commitment Form. If this is the case, please contact Northeast SARE by no later than April 14, 2020.

Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), Deadlines Extended

REAP provides grants and loans to farmers and rural businesses interested in making energy efficiency improvements. The program supports the purchase of wind, solar or other renewable energy systems, and provides grants to help farmers with energy audits and renewable energy development. REAP’s funding approach is two-pronged, with assistance going towards: 

  1. Grants and guaranteed loans for farms and small rural businesses aiming to improve energy efficiency and implement renewable energy; and 
  2. Energy audit and renewable grants for service providers who work with farmers and small rural businesses.

For 2020, the Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBCS) announced the availability of $50 million for REAP. A follow-up announcement extended the application window closing date for various deadlines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For farms and small businesses requesting grants under $20,000, the first batching deadline has already passed. The second batching deadline, however, will be 4:30 pm local time on April 15, 2020. The deadline for larger grant requests is also 4:30 pm local time on April 15, 2020. Finally, for farms and businesses requesting a private loan guarantee, there is a rolling deadline during which eligible applications will be reviewed and processed when received for periodic competitions. For more information on REAP, see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.


Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension


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