According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the best opportunities in the farm and ranch industry are those revolving around small-scale, local farm operations — particularly in organic farming and horticulture. Women looking to enter the farm industry may have access to grant awards for funding their operations, purchasing land, and capitalizing on women-owned business opportunities. Most grants offered in the United States are for nonprofit agricultural entities, like co-ops, who in turn award monies to individual specialty farmers.
Women in Agriculture
Data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, shows that as of 2010, approximately 165,000 farms were operated by women. Economic, demographic, and social factors indicate that the number will keep rising. The USDA administers grant programs to conventional farmers wanting to make the transition to organic farming, as well as grants for farmers already functioning in an organic capacity. In addition, the USDA offers guaranteed loan programs, outreach and support to agricultural startup businesses.
According to the USDA, the organic food industry has been growing at a remarkable rate during the past several years. Vegetables and fruits accounted for 37 percent of U.S. organic food sales in 2008. Some organic farm operations offer "pick your own produce" opportunities as a service to the community, which reduces harvest time for the farmer. The Organic Farming Research Foundation gives grants to farmers for research, educational and outreach projects. Dates vary for the acceptance of grant proposals, and there are several grant-funded opportunities offered through this resource.
High-value crops like organic raspberries, blueberries and tomatoes may be grown vertically, within greenhouses. Women with an interest in organic farming may find funding opportunities for land which implements new technologies from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, or SARE, which awards grants designed to promote organic farming among farmers already in operation.
VAPG and REAP
Established in 2001, the Value Added Producer Grants, or VAPG, program awards matching funds to small farmers and ranchers who add value to their product during the production or processing stage. This could mean organic growing technologies, sustainable growing practices, or in the form of naturally raised livestock. The Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP, grant program provides funding for renewable energy development. Women considering converting an existing farm or starting an organic farm may receive funding for energy efficient power sources to heat or cool greenhouses or supply clean energy for their operations.