Many USDA grant programs will likely hold a 2018 grant cycle

Understanding Farm Bill programs can be a challenge. This article can help shed some light on the process.

The Agricultural Act of 2014, commonly referred to as “The Farm Bill,” was signed into law by President Obama in Feb. 2014 and will expire at the end of Sept. 2018. Programs funded by the Farm Bill include: agricultural related loans, crop insurance and disaster assistance for farmers, nutrition education, Cooperative Extension education and outreach, programs related to energy and forestry, as well as supplemental nutrition assistance for low-income families.

This is a complex piece of legislation with many programs. For this reason, it can be hard for local governments and nonprofit organizations to untangle the web of grant funding available through the Farm Bill for local food systems projects and programs in their community.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is currently the Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. She played a key leadership role in writing and passing the last Farm Bill when she served as Chair of the Committee from 2011 to 2014.

“The 2014 Farm Bill is currently providing critical support for a number of important community projects in Michigan to increase access to fresh and nutritious food,” said Senator Stabenow. “I encourage groups to continue making full use of the opportunities available so we can support our local food systems. I intend to do everything I can to make sure these funds are reauthorized in the next Farm Bill in 2018.”

The following are two of the grant programs used by many communities in Michigan. Each of these programs are expected to have a 2018 round of grant funds before they expire with the 2014 Farm Bill in Sept. 2018, if a new Farm Bill does not continue them:

Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP): The purpose is to increase domestic consumption of, and access to locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operation serving local markets by developing/improving farmers markets and other direct to consumer market venues. FMPP is focused specifically on direct to consumer marketing and sales opportunities.

Several communities in Michigan have been successful securing a grant from this program to support the development or expansion of a farmers market, a community supported agriculture network, farmer/market staff training programs, and even building a network of farmers markets/farm stands. Communities/organizations are encouraged to start developing projects now for the 2018 round of funding, which may become available in early 2018.

Local Food Promotion Program: The purpose is to support the development and expansion of local and regional food business enterprises to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets. This program requires 25 percent in matching funds from the applicant or community partners. There are two types of grants: planning grants and implementation grants.

LFPP planning grants can be used to pay for market research, to conduct feasibility studies, and to develop business plans. LFPP implementation grants can be used to establish a new local/regional food business enterprise (such as a food hub). Funds can be used for training, marketing, and information technology. In addition to local governments and nonprofits, agricultural business entities, cooperative and producer networks that operate as for profit businesses may apply for these funds. Similarly to FMPP, there will likely be a 2018 round of funding for LFPP grants announced early next year.

The process to develop a new Farm Bill has already begun. A hearing was held in Kansas earlier in 2017 to gather stakeholder input. Another hearing will be held in Michigan this spring. Committee hearings and meetings will likely take place this summer and fall. These two grant programs will expire at the end of the of 2014 Farm Bill and will need to be reauthorized in the next Farm Bill in order fund future farmers markets and local food projects.

Two other grant programs authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill include Community Food Projects through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Specialty Crop Block Grants through USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. Both of these programs have mandatory funding status; however, that may change under a new Farm Bill.

In conclusion, there are two key points to take away:

1) Michigan State University Extension recommends that communities and organizations start working to develop 2018 grant projects now for the programs listed in this article. There is always a chance that a grant cycle will not be offered, but we believe that these funds will continue at least for one more cycle.

2) Now is the time to talk with your U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators about whether or not you feel these programs should be included in the next Farm Bill. 

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