Beginning Farmer Grants for Equipment and Other Resources
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Virtually all N.C. Cooperative Extension agents receive a request for assistance to find grants for those wishing to begin a farm enterprise or agribusiness. Grants that provide funding for such efforts are rare, if they exists at all. Generally, funding to begin such ventures begins with obtaining a loan, not a grant. Thus, a higher probability of success will occur if one invests funds and time into NC Farm School. This program offers intensive training on evaluation of equipment, enterprise budgets for various crops, marketing, cash flow, risk evaluation, sales, and more. Too, those attending get personal visits and direction from NC State University faculty. In contrast, should one actually have a written plan and be ready to move beyond this stage, then grants may provide assistance. Below are some things to consider when seeking these types of grants.
- There are only a handful of organizations that offers grants, and even when available, are frequently limited to specific areas of the state, require matching funds, are limited to specific crops, or have some other critical requirement.
- Virtually all grants are competitive. (Organizations and government have limited funds). As such, often those funding the grants seek projects that show innovation, broad collaboration, and wide community impact.
- Many grants will grade/rank applicants based upon specific criteria. For example, some plainly state that priority will be provided for collaborative efforts. Some will rank applicants that have land enrolled into a Farmland Preservation District higher than those not enrolled. Make sure you understand what will be given priority ranking.
- Most grants cannot be used to purchase equipment unless the purchase of new equipment or modification of older equipment provides an added value to farm or society. Most prohibit using grants to purchase basic farm equipment.
- Grants usually require intensive records and reporting regardless of the funding partner. Some require organized educational events and some require sharing of information gained from the project. Make sure you understand the requirements before applying. (i.e. Nothing is truly “free”. One pays with sharing, records, reporting, and hours of documenting efforts/progress).
- Grants are usually offered on a specific timeline. As such, your scope of effort may, or may not, coincide with those offering funding. If possible, after making a business plan, begin the venture. However, do continue to examine grant opportunities that fit what you are already doing. This actually increases your chance of obtaining a grant.
- Most grants favor funding projects that add value to an existing business venture. This might be improving a process to create new sales, adding value to infrastructure to improve profitability, or perhaps as simple as an investment in equipment that provides greater conservation of natural resources. Currently, none will simply be funding to buy new farm equipment or begin a new venture.
The bottom line is that one will almost certainly have to find other sources of money for the major portion, if not all, of financing to begin farming or an agribusiness venture. This is very likely to be true even if grants are obtained. Financing from family, lending institution, “go fund me” sites, or other creative financing is encouraged. The USDA Farm Service Agency offers low interest rate loans for beginning farmers for those that quality. Note, however, a written business plan is frequently required for this loan.
For those persistent enough, limited grant funds are available. Many are commonly found at the sites below.
FarmAnswers (partners with USDA)