Farming is a risky business, and a career field that has become increasingly difficult to break into over the past few decades. For farmers of color and military veterans, starting and managing a successful farming operation can present particularly unique and difficult challenges. These communities have not historically benefitted from vital U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) safety net programs to the same extent as other farmers – often due to insufficient or inadequate outreach and assistance efforts. This disparity disadvantages farmers of color and military veterans in both the national and global economy, and stifles the growth and prosperity of rural communities.
For nearly three decades, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the Section 2501 Program, after its original Farm Bill section number) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the needs of minority farmers. The program was expanded in the 2014 Farm Bill to also serve military veterans. The 2501 Program helps nonprofits and institutions provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to these historically underserved producers.
Learn More About the 2501 Program:
The Section 2501 program provides federal grants to assist organizations that work with farmers of color and military veterans in owning and operating successful farms. These grants can also be used to help historically underserved farmers directly access USDA programs. Section 2501 is administered by USDA’s Office of Partnerships and Public Engagement (OPPE).
Since 1990, the Section 2501 Program has targeted funding to support farmers who are considered “socially disadvantaged” by USDA’s definition. These include African American, American Indian, Asian American, and Latino farmers and ranchers. The 2014 Farm Bill expanded the program to also serve returning military veterans engaged in agriculture.
Farmers of color have been historically underrepresented in many USDA programs for several reasons, including historic discrimination, limited resources, and inadequate outreach to these communities. As a result, many farmers of color are not aware of USDA programs or where to go to access federal assistance. Even if they are familiar with federal programs, underserved producers often find that those programs are not geared to their needs. Some may also find it difficult to complete program applications, or experience language, institutional, and other cultural barriers.
The purpose of the 2501 program is to assure that farmers of color and military veterans have opportunities to successfully acquire, own, operate, and retain farms and equitably participate in all USDA programs. The program supports a range of outreach and assistance activities, including farm management, financial management, marketing, and application and bidding procedures.
Grant projects are required to address the following program priorities:
The maximum amount that organizations can apply for is $250,000 per year for a 3-year grant project. There is no match required for applications, and only one project proposal may be submitted per organization.
Applicants are also encouraged to coordinate with existing regional projects to complement pertinent and relevant cross-regional activities. USDA is required to ensure geographical diversity in grant funding.
The 2501 program provides grants to organizations that develop outreach programs and provide technical assistance to underserved farmers. Organizations that are eligible to apply for grant funding include:
Organizations must have demonstrated expertise in working with underserved, socially disadvantaged and/or veteran farmer communities, and priority will be given to nongovernmental, community-based organizations serving these communities.
Over the past three decades, the Section 2501 Program has invested millions of dollars of federal funding to develop and strengthen innovative outreach and technical assistance programs and other resources targeted at historically underserved producers.
Since 2003, over $124 million in grant funding has been invested into 551 projects serving rural and urban communities across 43 states and the U.S. territories. In the past few years alone, the program has served more than 100,000 rural constituents, making it an invaluable resource for communities of color and veterans across the nation.
Examples of successful 2501 grant projects include:
Read more about recent 2501 awardees on NSAC’s blog:
The Section 2501 Program was first established in the 1990 Farm Bill with an initial authorization for $10 million in annual discretionary funding. The 2002 Farm Bill increased the authorization to $25 million per year, but the program never received a congressional appropriation of more than $6 million in any year.
Despite the program’s early success, program funding had historically been insufficient to reach counties throughout the U.S. where outreach was needed the most. The 2008 Farm Bill addressed this by providing for the first time, mandatory funding, and drastically scaling up funding to roughly $20 million per year. No funding was awarded in 2013, however, due to the delay in reauthorizing the farm bill. When the 2014 Farm Bill was finally signed into law, annual program funding for 2501 was cut in half – from $20 million to $10 million per year.
Unfortunately, this significant cut in funding also accompanied a significant program expansion – to serve the influx of returning military veterans interested in pursuing a career in farming. This underinvestment in the Section 2501 Program ultimately shortchanged our nation’s most vulnerable and chronically underserved farmers, and slowed the pace of bringing much-needed new farmers into the industry.
Thankfully, the 2018 Farm Bill restored and provided long-sought permanent funding for 2501. The 2018 Farm Bill also created the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program by merging the 2501 Program with the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. FOTO will serve as a new umbrella program, and is designed to coordinate USDA training and outreach to beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers.
The new farm bill also made several changes to the underlying 2501 Program that increase the program’s transparency, accountability and responsiveness to stakeholders. The bill mandates that USDA employ an external peer review panel to evaluate funded proposals (rather than relying solely on USDA employees to make funding decisions), establishes a new priority for community-based organizations, and standardizes grant terms to be consistent with BFRDP.
|Fiscal Year||Annual Program Funding (in millions)|
|2019||$15* + $3**|
|2020||$15* + $2.5**|
|5 yr total||$92.5*|
|10 yr total||$217.5|
*denotes mandatory (farm bill) funding
** denotes discretionary (appropriated) funding
Please note: The funding levels in the chart above shows both the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2018 Farm Bill for this program to be provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation, and discretionary funding appropriated by Congress annually. However, Congress does at times pass subsequent appropriations legislation that either caps the funding level for a particular year for a particular program at less than provided by the farm bill, or provide additional discretionary funding. In addition, 2501 is subject to automatic cuts as part of an annual sequestration process established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
For the most current information on program funding levels, please see NSAC’s Annual Appropriations Chart.
Section 12301 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 amends Section 7405 of the Food Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and Section 2501 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 2279(c)
Last updated in June 2019.