If you’re starting a small farm or trying to find supplemental funding options for specific projects, grants can be a way to make up the shortfall. A grant is usually a one-time donation or award of money connected with a certain cause or purpose. Each grant has conditions and requirements, which are as diverse as the groups that offer them. Because of this, there’s a good chance that there are grants out there you could be eligible to receive, but applying for each grant can be labor- and time-intensive.
What Is a Farm Grant?
Financial grants for small farms and farm-related businesses are available from various federal, state, and local agencies as well as from many non-governmental organizations. Typically, a company or organization puts out a notice detailing what funds are available, who is eligible for the money, and the requirements, procedures, and deadlines to apply for the funding. Sometimes, the funds are designed to promote a specific farming practice (e.g., fully-organic farms, biodynamic vineyards, conservation practices, environmental stewardship, etc.). Other times, groups make funds available to farmers cultivating in a particular geographic area, fulfilling a public need or initiative, or raising a specific type of crop or herd.
How Do I Navigate the Grant Process?
There are five basic steps to obtaining a grant.
1. Evaluate projects you need to undertake on your farming operation.
As you consider your near and long-term objectives and plans for your farm business, put them in priority order and think about target beginning and completion dates for each. Once you have a list of projects or desired end results (e.g., switch to solar energy at your main office, purchase a more energy-efficient grain dryer, replace nozzles with no-drip, convert to geo-thermal heating for your equipment shed, etc.). Think about costs compared with potential savings and benefits over the short and long term as you prioritize your projects.
2. Assess the project’s potential cost.
Define the project’s potential cost, estimating an exact dollar amount as accurately as possible (tending towards the high side to accommodate unanticipated expenses and overages). This will help you target appropriate grants that can best fit your needs. Having specific monetary goals will make your grant proposals more appealing and concrete, which can work to your advantage, too. For example, rather than identifying a goal of “expanding irrigation system by 40 acres,” do the legwork and establish the amount that will cost in terms of supplies, installation, and maintenance.
3. Research grant options
Once you’ve identified the project cost, research grant options. In addition to government agricultural initiatives, look at federal and state school grants and grants offered by private companies. The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library website is a good resource that includes links and up-to-date information about both public and private sources of grant money. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also maintains a database of federal farm and food-related programs and grants, organized by issue and by who is eligible to apply or sign up. It may benefit you to research potential new directions for your farming initiatives if they may help you qualify for certain additional grant pools. For example, if your distribution is already limited to your local area, you might research programs through the local school systems, after-school care programs, poverty outreach departments, and programs for local seniors that encourage partnerships with local farmers and emphasize local and regional farm development (like this one).
Do your homework on-line and/or through your local USDA office, or contact a grant-writing agency whose experts can help you determine what grants are best suited to your specific situation and objectives.
4. Develop your grant proposal
Writing a winning proposal is equal parts specificity and persuasion, i.e., identifying exactly what the donor’s money will be spent on and exactly why they should let you spend it on those things. Most grants will have a list of questions or issues to address; make sure you address each fully and specifically. Explain how the grant will impact your overall budget, and account for every item you plan to use the grant money to purchase. Include details and added infrastructure expenses like utilities, backup parts, seeds, etc. as well as the cost of additional labor and resources if applicable (for example, the cost of retaining an expert consultant to convert to organic farming practices and the extra charges to obtain organic certification). Reach out to peers, mentors, and farm community members to obtain copies of successful grant proposals; seeing what works for others can help you craft a grant proposal that works for you.
For many busy farm owners and their families, grant-writing is not something they are experienced with nor something they want to put a lot of time and effort into when there are expert resources out there. For a small % of the project cost, professional grant writers will complete those long applications on your behalf, using information you provide. Professional grant writers have experience with successful applications and will apply that experience and knowledge to preparation of your application. Ask the grant writer or agency their success rate. Choose a writer or agency of writers with a proven track record and a desire to spend the time necessary with you and your application.
5. Submit early and often
Improve your chances of obtaining grant money by applying for as many grants as you think you have a chance at getting, but make sure you individually tailor your proposals to each grant. Edit your proposals to address each grant’s intent and requirements, and make sure you submit them by the indicated deadlines! Government grants are on a cycle, and missing the deadline may mean you will have to wait a year before applications are accepted again. Note that some government agencies limit the number of application you can submit in a year, so apply for your priority projects first.
If you don’t feel confident drafting your own grant proposals, or if you just don’t have the time and resources, hire a professional grant writing firm to help. FamilyFarms Group offers a wide range of agriculture consulting services, including access to more than one professional grant writing agency with proven success. Contact us today to talk about how we can help you succeed with grants and with your farm business in general.
Contact our grant writing partner consultants!
Energy Improvement Matters (EIM, LLC)
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Janet Everly, EdD, Assistant Manager
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