Farming and ranching are treasured American industries but their economic viability -- especially for some small-scale farmers -- is challenging due to increased competition from larger operations, urban development and from market fluctuation. To help conserve land and protect the local environment for future generations, both the government and private foundations award farm and ranch grants to organizations and individual landowners. Many farmers are eligible for these opportunities if they know where to look.
A major source of federal grant funding for farmers and ranchers is an agency called the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Among NRCS farm and ranch grant programs is the Agricultural Water Enhancement program (AWEP), a $60 million annual initiative. This particular program is designed to help "implement agricultural water enhancement activities on agricultural land for the purposes of conserving surface and ground water and improving water quality," according to the Private Landowner Network. The NRCS also provides grant support through other programs, such as Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program. Unlike AWEP, the FRPP is available to farm and ranch projects with broader goals than water quality -- work in soil conservation, agricultural resources sustainability and historic preservation are eligible for funding.
In addition to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, other USDA agencies like the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) award grants for ranches and farming. Among the opportunities available from NIFA is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. This specific program works to "address the needs of limited resource beginning farmers or ranchers; socially disadvantaged beginning farmers or ranchers; and farm workers desiring to become farmers or ranchers," according to the USDA. Other NIFA programs support research and development in ranching and farming issues such as organic agriculture and food safety.
State agricultural agencies also have grant programs for farmers and ranchers operating within their state. In the state of New York, the Department of Agriculture and Markets awards funding "to assist counties and municipalities in developing agricultural and farmland protection plans and to assist both in the implementation of such plans," according to the Department's Request for Applications. In neighboring Vermont, as another example, the government funds farm and ranch programs that help develop renewable energy projects and improve manure management on the state's agricultural lands.
While the government is a major supporter of farm and ranch grant programs, it is not the only available source of funding. Private foundations often make grants to farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations with a focus on conservation. The Farm Foundation's Small Grants program, as an example, is intended to advance the agricultural conservation policy discussion. Similar foundations provide support to farmers and ranchers at the local and regional level. One locally oriented private funder is the York County Community Foundation, which makes grants for agricultural and land preservation in Southern Pennsylvania. Other foundations fund farm and ranch grant programs at regional levels such as the Shared Strategy for Puget Sound. Conservation programs such as the Fields Pond Foundation may be applicable if you are conserving part of your land, which has favorable tax consequences in many states.