Report Shows Increasing Demand for Federal Beginning Farmer and Rancher Grants Program

Popular federal program serves public, beginning farmers

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — The nation’s leading public training program for assisting beginning farmers and ranchers is more popular than ever, and continues to be a critical public investment in community-based organizations that conduct beginning farmer education and training. Those are two conclusions of an assessment of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), which was released today by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP).

The assessment, published by LSP in collaboration with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), is intended to help policy makers and public officials better understand how BFRDP funding, provided through the federal farm bill, is distributed and to evaluate its administrative and programmatic strengths and weaknesses. LSP’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: Progress Report on 2015 Awards analyzes the most recent round of project grants in the context of trends in recent years. LSP and NSAC have collaborated on an assessment of BFRDP since 2009 when the program began awarding grants.

Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, BFRDP is a competitive grants program that funds community-based organizations, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, state cooperative extension, and producer groups to provide training and support to beginning farmers and ranchers.

Since the program was launched in 2009, BFRDP has awarded more than $100 million to 218 projects across the nation, and is a key publicly supported effort to ensure the success of the next generation of American family farmers.

In 2015, USDA awarded $17.8 million in BFRDP grants to 34 projects. These projects serve diverse communities of beginning farmers across the nation, from farmworkers in Mississippi, to organic stewards in the Upper Midwest, to urban farmers in Oakland, California.

“My husband and I have utilized regional BFRDP-funded community-based programs, including Land Stewardship Project’s Farm Beginnings, to expand and strengthen our farm business,” said Lauren Langworthy, a vegetable and sheep farmer in Wheeler, Wisconsin. “These programs have been extremely valuable to us as we enter the world of running our own business and navigating the waters of producing and marketing our farm products in the constantly-evolving local foods economy. As our business grows and morphs, the skills that we’ve gathered from these programs have guided us to be flexible and adaptive.”

Interest in the program increased again in this most recent funding round, and of the 212 applications submitted 34 were awarded funding. The increase in demand over recent cycles has been dramatic—applications more than doubled between 2012 and 2015. LSP is urging Congress to respond to the rise in demand by increasing funding for BFRDP by 50 percent in the next Farm Bill.

“Community-based organizations have long and deep ties in our area and can offer information that is specifically helpful within our region of production, local marketplaces, and styles of production,” said Langworthy, who serves on LSP’s federal farm policy committee. “As a certified organic, diversified, mid-scale, family-owned and family-operated farm in the Upper Midwest – tailored information like this can be difficult to find within national programming. With our country’s diverse landscapes, cultures, climates, and markets – local communities and regional information are invaluable to beginning farmers like myself.”

The full report and recommendations are available on LSP’s website here.