Individual farming/ranching operations are eligible to apply for two USDA grant programs, with deadlines coming up soon.
General signup for the Conservation Reserve Program, which helps producers to safeguard environmentally sensitive land, has a February 28 deadline. Applications for the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, which helps producers process and market new value-added products, are due March 5.
In the CRP, the government pays farmers and ranchers an annual rent in exchange for planting long-lived plant species, from an approved list of grasses and trees. This is intended to control soil erosion, improve water quality, and develop wildlife habitat.According to the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers the CRP, “CRP has 22 million acres enrolled, but the 2018 Farm Bill lifted the cap to 27 million acres. This means farmers and ranchers have a chance to enroll in CRP for the first time or continue their participation for another term.”Under certain conditions, CRP land can be grazed and/or hayed, providing a potential win-win for conservation-minded livestock producers.
Generally, grazing and haying are allowed on established CRP acres outside the officially defined Primary Nesting Season for wildlife. In Oklahoma, this runs from May 1 – July 1. In addition, CRP producers in areas which have suffered losses of normal hay/pasture production due to natural disasters, such as drought or fire, may be authorized for emergency grazing or haying.
The CRP general signup is held annually. The general signup now includes increased opportunities to enroll wildlife habitat, through an initiative called State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE).
There are different options for signing up for the CRP. The general signup is the one with the Febrary 28 deadline. There is also a continuous signup option, which has no deadline and can be applied for at any time. In addition, there is a CRP grasslands program.
“CRP Grasslands signup helps landowners and operators protect grassland, including rangeland, and pastureland and certain other lands while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. A separate CRP Grasslands signup will be offered each year following general signup.” [UPDATE 03/13/2020: The 2020 signup period for CRP grasslands runs March 16 – May 15.]
For more information on the CRP, visit the program webpage at fsa.usda.gov/crp. To find the nearest FSA office, use the agency’s locator at farmers.gov/service-locator.
Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program
According to its website, “The Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program helps agricultural producers enter into value-added activities related to the processing and marketing of new products.”
“The goals of this program are to generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities and increase producer income.”
Independent producers are eligible to apply, along with “agricultural producer groups, farmer- or rancher-cooperatives, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures.”
Priority may be given to applications from beginning or socially-disadvantaged farmers or ranchers, small or medium-sized farms or ranches structured as family farms, farmer or rancher cooperatives, or proposals for a mid-tier value chain.
The program awards planning grants for up to $75,000, and working capital grants of up to $250,000, with a 50% matching funds requirement in both categories.
“Examples of planning activities include conducting feasibility studies and developing business plans for processing and marketing the proposed value-added product,” according to the program website. “Examples of working capital expenses include processing costs, marketing and advertising expenses, and some inventory and salary expenses.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition maintains an informational webpage on the VAPG. It includes examples of successful proposals from past years.
The deadline for VAPG applications is March 5 for applications submitted electronically, and March 10 for those submitted by mail or in person.
For more information, visit the VAPG website, or contact Brian Wiles, Acting Business Program Director, by email or phone (405-742-1060).