NSAC's Blog

USDA Invests $14 Million to Train the Next Generation of Farmers

November 7, 2019

Farmer inspecting a dripline on a diversified farm. Photo credit: Caitlin Joseph

The new farmer boom continues to grow all across the country, but barriers to entry (such as access to land, capital, and viable markets) continue to make it hard for new farmers to build a successful and sustainable farm business. In response, hundreds of farmer training programs and projects have emerged over the past decade to address the specific challenges that new producers face when just starting out. Many of these projects are supported financially through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) – a federal grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

For over a decade, BFRDP has served as the only USDA program dedicated to training the next generation of farmers. The latest round of grant awards – totaling $14 million in grant funding – was announced last week. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) applauds all of the awarded projects for the critical work they are doing to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and include highlights below of NSAC member projects in this field.

Program Funding

Over the past decade, BFRDP has invested roughly $176 million in public funds into 350+ new farmer training projects in every state across the country. In the latest round of awards for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, BFRDP issued 32 new grants that will invest over $14 million over the next three years to support organizations and academic institutions working to train the next generation of farmers. However, it’s important to note that this funding level represents a decrease of almost $4 million compared to FY 2018, due to cuts to the program included in the new farm bill.

According to a 2017 evaluation of BFRDP led by NSAC, over the last decade, BFRDP has been instrumental in building a national infrastructure, new models, and best practices to train and support new farmers. However, despite the program’s success, funding has remained flat since its creation in 2002, even after the program was expanded to serve veterans in 2014.

In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress created an umbrella program – the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program – to streamline and coordinate USDA resources for beginning and other underserved farmers. In creating FOTO, Congress provided permanent funding for BFRDP, but in doing so, cut annual program funding over the new few years. This comes out to a $5 million decrease in grant funding for the 2019 and 2020 funding cycles – increasing competition for limited funding. Because program funding has not kept pace with historical demand for the program, only 24 percent of all proposals submitted over the last six years has been funded.

Spotlight on Grantees 

Compared to many other farm bill programs, BFRDP is still a relatively small federal program – doling out millions rather than billions of dollars every year. However, the impact of funded grant projects is far from small. Nationwide, BFRDP provides much-needed services and resources that otherwise would not exist, that help to ensure that aspiring farmers can feed their neighbors and the nation. NSAC congratulates all grant recipients in this latest round of funding, especially the dedicated farmer- and community-based organizations who work directly with beginning farmers and ranchers every day. Community-based organizations, including those within NSAC, have been the program’s earliest champions, and remain a cornerstone of the program’s success to this day. Below, we highlight the many NSAC member organizations that received BFRDP awards this cycle:

  • Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) (California) – will use their $600,000 grant to fund the Latino Immigrant Farmworkers Transition to Organic Farming Futures (LIFT OFF) project. LIFT OFF will lower the barriers to establishing an organic farm enterprise for 125 limited-resource – mostly Mexican immigrant – farmers. Under the project, these farmers will undergo a comprehensive farm incubation program through which they will gain subsidized access to land, equipment and technical assistance. The project leverages ALBA’s experienced bilingual staff, proven partners, and a 100-acre organic farm in the Salinas Valley. BFRDP has provided crucial program support to ALBA in providing training and resources over 5 years to help farmers make the bold transition from farm worker to farm owner.

“ALBA is thrilled to receive funding through USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program,” said Patricia Carrillo, Executive Director of ALBA. “Our Latino Immigrant Farmworkers Transition to Organic Farming Futures (LIFT OFF) project will decrease the barriers for limited-resource socially disadvantaged farmers to start their farm business through intensive land-based education and technical assistance.”

  • Angelic Organics Learning Center (Illinois) – Angelic Organics, Liberty Prairie Foundation, and Upper Midwest CRAFT farmer alliance will use their $600,000 grant to expand proven strategies in farmer training and become more responsive to structural barriers that affect women, people of color, immigrants, and veterans.

“Through this [BFRDP grant] funding, [Angelic Organics] will be able to deepen our ability to address pain points beginning farmers experience along the path to successful and viable farm operations – these include access to training and mentorship, land acquisition, and wholesale markets,” said Danica Hoehn, Farmer Training Program Director.

  • Future Harvest CASA (Maryland) – A collaborative of seven partner organizations, led by Future Harvest CASA, has received $199,786 to launch Chesapeake Grows: A Regional Approach to New Farmer Success, a pilot program aimed at growing and diversifying the new farmer pipeline across the Chesapeake region and supporting new operations’ long-term viability. This project is a one-year pilot that will enable this collaborative to trial, evaluate, and refine new region-wide programming and networking opportunities for beginning farmers. The seven partner organizations include Future Harvest CASA, University of Maryland Extension, West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition, ECO City Farms, Western Maryland Food Council, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Chesapeake Farm to Table.

“We are absolutely thrilled to receive funding through [BFRDP],” said Sarah Sohn, Director of Future Harvest CASA’s Beginner Farmer Training Program. “This funding will enable the seven partners in our collaborative to create innovative and integrated training and networking opportunities for new farmers across the Chesapeake region.”

  • Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) (Ohio) – Through the $570,327 BFRDP-funded project, On Solid Ground: Hands-on Training, Farm Viability, and Land Access Support for Ohio Beginning Farmers, OEFFA and its partners will build on previous work to comprehensively address the educational, skill-building, and service needs of new and beginning farmers to enhance their ability to acquire land, be successful as producers, and manage viable farm businesses.

“Increasing successful entry into farming and subsequent persistence in farming has the potential to deliver significant positive impacts to agriculture in Ohio and across the US,” reflects Carol Goland, OEFFA’s Executive Director. “This funding will allow OEFFA to coordinate applied learning experiences, individualized mentorships, farmer-led workshops, one-on-one technical assistance, and support for retiring farmers and the transfer of land to beginning farmers.”

  • Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) (Washington) – Organic seed production represents a lucrative and growing specialty market for beginning farmers and is an agricultural practice that will need to grow to meet the seed needs of organic farmers. OSA, in partnership with Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture, received $589,424 to fund a project that aims to increase the number of beginning farmers who grow organic seed, and to improve beginning seed producers’ practices to increase their profitability, decrease their financial risk, and improve their ability to produce greater quantities of high-quality seed.

“Organic Seed Alliance is committed to training more beginning farmers in organic seed production to diversify their income, fill organic seed supply gaps, and expand resilient and sustainable farming practices,” says Micaela Colley, OSA’s Program Director. “We’re honored to receive support from the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and believe our collaboration with the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture will increase grower participation and strengthen the impact of this project.”

FY 2019 Award Trends

In total, BFRDP awarded 32 new projects for FY 2019, totaling over $14 million in federal grant funding to help grow the next generation of farmers over the next three years. These new projects follow similar trends as years past, with a few exceptions. In total, 95 grant applications were submitted for consideration for FY 2019, with just 34 percent of those proposed projects chosen for funding. The total number of applications submitted for BFRDP was significantly lower than previous years, in large part due to the shortened application period resulting from the delay in publishing this year’s Request for Applications (RFA). The RFA was delayed primarily due to the government shutdown earlier this year and the delay in passing a new farm bill.

On a regional scale, this year’s grants were split relatively equally across the country – as required by law. The Southern and Western regions accumulated the most grants – roughly 60 percent – while the North Central and Northeast regions received slightly fewer grants. However, when looking at BFRDP’s total history (see chart above), grants have been distributed fairly equally across all regions, both in terms of funding and number of awards. Of the funded projects, this year’s grants include a greater number (and greater total dollars) of projects led by community-based organizations than in the previous year. In total, community-based organizations (CBOs) will lead 75 percent of funded projects in 2019, compared to only 56 percent last year (see graph below). Nineteen percent of awards will support academic institutions in reaching and training new farmers, and the remaining six percent of awards will support other types of organizations – such as economic development corporations and individual farms – in providing resources to the next generation of farmers.

This year marks a reversal of the greater focus placed on university-led projects last year, reaffirming Congress’s intent for the program to prioritize support for non-profit and community-based organization-led projects. The 2002 Farm Bill included a specific legislative priority to partnerships with non-profit and community-based organizations – recognizing the important role that these partners play in training the next generation of farmers.

As shown in the graph above, the ratio of BFRDP academic vs. non-profit-led projects has ebbed and flowed over the last decade, typically hovering around a 60-40 split in favor of non-profit projects. In the first year of funding, however, university-led projects were clearly favored – only 38 percent of grants were awarded to non-profit, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), CBO-led initiatives in 2009.

By 2010, partly due to advocacy efforts of NSAC and other beginning farmer organizations, the number of non-profit-led projects jumped to over 60 percent and had stayed at that level until FY 2018. FY 2018 marked the first year since the program’s first round of awards that the number of projects led by non-profits fell below 60 percent. This sudden shift raised concerns within the beginning farmer training community about whether or not non-profit organizations were adequately receiving the priority intended in BFRDP’s founding legislation. This year’s grant distribution, however, alleviates these concerns.

Following the trend in recent years, the average grant to university-led projects continues to be larger than those led by non-profit organizations ($526,400 compared with $439,857) with the average BFRDP project coming in roughly at $448,000.

Since the first days of BFRDP, NSAC has worked closely with USDA to ensure that non-profit and community-based organizations – those who work most closely with farmers on the ground and have been the leaders in beginning farmer training for decades (including those profiled above) – are fully supported through BFRDP. We will continue to lead this advocacy work going forward. To view a complete list of funded projects for FY2019 refer to the map below or click here.

BFRDP in FY 2020

As stated earlier, BFRDP has $5 million less funding for grants in 2019 and 2020. NSAC has been working in partnership with our members and beginning farmer allies to restore some of this funding through the annual Congressional Appropriations process (which funds most activities within the federal government). And while Congress did not provide any additional funding for FY 2019, NSAC remains hopeful that we will be able to secure a much needed influx of grant dollars in FY 2020.

Both chambers of Congress have passed their draft spending bills for 2020, and now it’s conference time – where the two chambers resolve the differences in each of their bills. And while the Senate bill provides no additional funding for BFRDP, the House bill provides the additional $5 million that is needed to restore funding cuts to BFRDP. Throughout conference negotiations, NSAC will continue to urge Members of Congress to support the House-passed funding levels for BFRDP and other sustainable agriculture priorities.

However, as noted in our earlier blog post, there is a $15 billion difference between the overall spending level 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 are unlikely to prevail in any final funding package – meaning that funding for at least some of NSAC’s priorities are on the chopping block. We will continue to provide analysis and action opportunities on NSAC’s blog and via our Action Alerts as the FY 2020 appropriations process continues to move forward.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Grants and Programs

2 responses to “USDA Invests $14 Million to Train the Next Generation of Farmers”

  1. Susan Crampton says:

    Thanks for your work. Please continue to emphasize integrity in organic standards.

  2. Dede Tudor says:

    Ditto, what Susan Crampton says. Trust me, if anyone has gut issues… go ORGANIC. You’re welcome.