If you’re looking to start a farm, state and federal government grants are available to help you buy farmland or to develop land you already own into a working farm or ranch. Some grants have specific requirements and are designed for specific purposes, so make sure your project meets the grantor’s requirements before you start the application process. Some farm start-up grants require you to match part of the funds while others seek to protect farmland in danger of being used for non-farm purposes.
The Application Process
Many government grants require advanced planning and attention to detail on your part if you want to be seriously considered for the award. Both federal and state level grants require you to submit in writing how you plan to use the money, so it's a good idea to have a business plan already in place. You might also need financial resources of your own to match the government grant. Observe all deadlines and guidelines to ensure you're not disqualified from consideration.
Government Grants for Buying Land
At the federal level, many grants come from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds, though the grants may be administered by another agency, such as the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Federal Grants Wire lists grants for people looking to buy farmland, each of which serves a certain need for a specific niche. Grants from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, for instance, aim to help younger farmers acquire farmland from retiring farmers. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as part of its Farmland Protection Program, provides a grant for farmers to buy farmland that contains prime or unique soils. The program aims to limit conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. At the state level, grants to buy land to start a farm are based on the needs of that area. Virginia, for instance, has a state chapter of the NRCS’s Farmland Protection Program. New York state’s Department of Agriculture has a grant program, the Municipal Agricultural and Farmland Protection Planning Grant, which provides grant funds to preserve farmland. Check with your state’s Department of Agriculture or similar office to see what grants may be available in your area.
Government Grants for Sustainable Farming
Perhaps you own land already but don’t have the financial resources to turn it into a farm. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (NSAIS) offers federal grants to help you turn your land into a sustainable farm. NSAIS also offers resources to help you meet your grantor’s expectations—such as having a business plan and other financial considerations. The USDA’s guide “Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches and Communities” lists grants for all types of farming operations, including grants for fruit and vegetable development, pest management and grasslands preservation. Many similar programs are administered by states' Departments of Agriculture, such as Kentucky’s Beginning Farmer Loan Program. The Kentucky Center for Agricultural Development and Entrepreneurship (KCADE) administers several sustainability and agribusiness grant programs.
Government Grants for Green and Organic Farming
“Green” and “organic” are broad terms; as such, there is a wide array of grant types for farmers to develop small-scale green and organic operations. NSAIS offers information about grants for on-farm biodiesel, ethanol, wind and solar energy operations. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) offers grants to help offset the high start-up costs for these alternative energy systems. If you’re looking to start an organic farm or co-op, NSAIS can help you find grants to launch such an effort. As with other types of grants for farming start-ups, each state may offer more specific grants in association with its Department of Agriculture.
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