Farming and ranching are both the backbone of America and a time-honored tradition, though they’ve undergone big changes in the last few decades.
It’s now harder than ever before to maintain, let alone start, a farming operation. Commercial operations are bigger and more complicated and are squeezing the little guys out, especially as older, more experienced farmers are retiring.
So, while farming and ranching is integral to the country’s success and is personally satisfying for many farmers and ranchers, funding can be hard or nearly impossible to come by, with many funding programs and grants being cut back or closed completely in recent years. And because farming and ranching can be considered by many lending institutions to be both small business and family residence, it can make qualifying for funding doubly complicated.
But there’s hope! You can use our comprehensive list of of farm grants to find resources that work for you, including both grant and lending programs.
Nearly every state in the country offers a program of some sort, so read through to find a good match for you and your goals. And read all the way to the end for some tips on how to help ensure you win that grant or loan you spent so much time applying for.
(Keep in mind, too, that new grant programs are always being created, so if you don’t find one that works for you now, keep checking this page—especially as governments change.)
Federal Farming Grants
While the number of federal assistance programs has decreased in recent years, there are still some you can take advantage of.
Perhaps you’ve experienced losses as a result of an emergency such as fire or drought, or perhaps you’ve got a great idea to make something new with your product. If so, the following federal programs are for you:
If you’ve ever thought about taking what you already have and turning it into something else, adding something to it to create a new product, or growing/raising it in a way that’s different from others (e.g., organic), try looking into this program to see what it can offer you.
For this program, “value-added” means a product that “helps increase farm income and marketing opportunities, creates new jobs, contributes to community economic development, and enhances food choices for consumers.” It offers grants to folks who add value to the product they started with.
Individuals, groups, organizations, and cooperatives all qualify for this grant. While there is no limit to the amount of the grant, it is a cost-matching grant, so keep that in mind when you’re applying. Also, any proposal asking more than $50,000 must be accompanied by an independent feasibility study and business plan. Both planning grants and working capital grants are available.
Proposals must be submitted here.
This is the perfect program for farmers with ideas. If you have an idea you want to try out that will benefit other farmers as well, give this grant a shot.
While you need to have a technical advisor involved in your project, you could get up to $15,000 to try out your new idea. But be prepared to present your results in annual and final reports. This grant is not a cost-matching grant, so there’s no need to worry about being able to match funds.
Jump on this one quickly if your idea is ready to go! The deadline for 2019 closes on November 27, 2018, but it will open up again next year if you aren’t quite ready yet.
And there’s one last catch: you must be a commercial farmer in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, or Washington, D.C.
Also make sure your operation meets the definition of “farm” as laid out by the USDA as you’ll only qualify for this grant if yours does match.
This definition states the goal is to provide food and fiber to meet human needs. For example, farms raising plants or livestock that are part of the food or fiber value chain, such as hay for livestock feed or stocker cattle for finishing, are eligible operations.
Download this pdf to learn more about the definition before you apply.
This is the same organization, program, and grant as the one above, except this one is available to those in the western states and territories including Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Micronesia, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
If you live in a western state, you’re in luck, because this program caps their grants at $20,000 rather $15,000 for other areas, and a group of three or more producers can apply for up to $25,000.
This one is also open only until November 28, 2018, so if you’d like to be considered for a 2019 grant, get your proposal together quickly.
Check out the eligibility requirements here, but they are the same as the Northeast SARE Farmer Grant above.
This is the third of four grants given out by Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, each by geographical location. This is for those in north-central America: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
There are three types of competitive grants here: individual grants ($9,000 maximum), team of two grants for two farmers/ranchers from separate operations working together ($18,000 maximum), and group grants for three or more farmers/ranchers from separate operations working together ($27,000 maximum). This one is open until December 6, 2018.
Livestock Emergency Relief
The USDA has programs in place to assist farmers who have experienced livestock emergencies. If you need emergency relief, one of these programs can help you, but you will have to show proof of your loss.
Have you experienced losses because of a natural disaster or severe drought? This program can help you fix the damage and/or help you install new ways of conserving water. If you meet the following eligibility requirements (The FSA County Committee inspects the damage to determine if land is eligible), you may qualify for both funds and technical assistance if the following applies to you:
- Not fixing the damage would further damage the land,
- Not addressing the damage would significantly affect the land’s productive capacity,
- The damage from a natural disaster is unusual for the area (except from wind erosion), or
- The damage is too costly to repair to return the land to agricultural production without federal assistance.
This program will help you cover up to 75% of the repairs, but if you are a qualified limited resource producer, you could get as much as 90%.
Contact your local FSA office to apply or learn more.
If your goats have been, or would have been, grazing in a particular zone that they can no longer use because of drought or fire, you may qualify for emergency payments. Check out the map of eligible counties for more information about your area.
If you’ve owned your goats—or you entered into a contract to purchase—for 60 days or more before the emergency, you’ve sold your goats because of the emergency, and you were/are raising the goats for commercial purposes rather than personal or recreational, you probably qualify for assistance if you’ve experienced drought or fire.
Payment amounts differ depending on whether your emergency is due to drought or fire and if you’ve kept or sold your goats. You could receive one to five payments. Amounts for farmers who’ve kept their goats but need assistance due to drought are “equal to 60 percent of the lesser of either the monthly feed cost for (a) all covered livestock owned or leased by the eligible livestock producer or (b) calculated by using the normal carrying capacity of the eligible grazing land of the eligible livestock producer.”
Amounts for those who have sold their goats due to drought are entitled to 80% of the usual payment rate. Those whose goats are unable to graze because of fire are eligible for 50% of the monthly feed cost necessary for the number of days the goats are unable to graze (to a maximum of 180 days).
To apply, just fill out an application form and return it with your supporting documents to your local FSA office within 30 days of the end of the calendar year in which your loss occurred. Some examples of supporting documents include your grower contract and evidence of your loss.
Livestock Indemnity Program
If you’ve experienced an excessive loss of goats because of bad weather conditions, disease, or attacks from animals that the government has reintroduced to the wild, this program could help you. Your payment would be equal to 75% of the average fair market value of your goats.
You could be eligible as long as you owned the goats at the time you lost them and you owned them for commercial purposes, not personal or recreational. Eligible extreme weather events include the following:
- tropical storm
- vog, if directly related to a volcanic eruption
- winter storm, if the winter storm lasts for three consecutive days and is accompanied by high winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall and extremely cold temperatures
- wild fires
- extreme heat
- extreme cold
- straight-line winds
- drought only when associated with anthrax, a condition that occurs because of drought and results in the death of eligible livestock
- cyanobacteria (beginning in 2015 calendar year)*
- larkspur poisoning (beginning in 2015 calendar year)*
*Only eligible diseases qualify, and “eligible” means a disease made worse by an eligible adverse weather event that directly results in eligible livestock losses.
If you qualify for neither of the above programs—The Livestock Foraging Program or the Livestock Indemnity Program—you may still be able to take advantage of this one. This emergency assistance program could give you payments if you experienced losses due to disease, qualifying adverse weather events including blizzards and wildfires, or loss conditions as long as you have not qualified for other emergency assistance programs.
To apply for this program, visit your local FSA office within a year of your loss and then submit a notice of loss to the FSA center that maintains your farm records.
Beginning Farmer Grants
There are a couple of programs available designed to give beginning farmers/ranchers a leg up in their chosen industry.
The two programs below involve partnering with experienced, retiring farmers. Those with experience are a great resource when you’re just starting out, so start here, and then jump to the sections on state programs and credit programs (below) if you’re a beginning farmer.
The Transition Incentives Program is a win-win program. Not only does it offer retiring farmers up to two more annual payments once their Conservation Reserve Program (find out more below) payments have ended and peace of mind knowing the land they loved will continue to be worked and loved, but it gives new farmers or socially disadvantaged farmers an opportunity to buy and work the land at a reasonable price.
Retirees have the option of either selling or leasing the land to a new or socially disadvantaged farmer. Leases must run no less than 5 years, and the interest rate for selling the land can’t include an interest rate higher than 3% above the FSA rate. Only land already registered in the Conservation Reserve Program are eligible.
New farmers must use sustainable farming methods and conservation practices and must also have been farming for no more than 10 years to qualify for the program. You can also enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program or Environmental Quality Incentives Program while you participate in the Transition Incentive Program.
For more information on the program, check out their FAQ page.
Beginning farmers, as with any field, can benefit from the advice of those more experienced than them. The USDA has partnered with the Small Business Administration and SCORE to help you move forward and succeed in your goals. Have specific questions answered or get advice with general topics such as business planning, financing, marketing strategies, or tax planning.
Interested in learning more? Just click on the SCORE button here or on the USDA New Farmers webpage. You’ll be paired with a mentor in 72 hours or less, and then you and your mentor can arrange to meet.
Or are you instead someone with lots of experience to share? Then click here to find out how to become a mentor.
Organic Farmer Grants
There’s no doubt consumers are more and more interested in organic products lately, so perhaps going organic is an idea you’ve been toying with.
However, the cost to transition to an organic operation can quite often be insurmountable, so you’ve put it on the backburner. But if you meet the eligibility requirements, perhaps signing up for this program may allow you to achieve that dream now.
For those interested in transitioning to organic farming, the USDA FSA offers funding to help ease the cost of not only receiving, but also maintaining, certification. As of 2017, the last year numbers are available for, the FSA will reimburse farmers up to 75% of the cost of certification to a maximum of $750.
This funding is divided into two smaller programs: the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program for those transitioning to organic production to cover set up costs and the Agricultural Management Assistance Organic Certification Cost Share Program for those who’ve achieved organic certification and need to cover the cost of maintaining organic production processes. The first is available in all 50 states and territories, but the second is available in only the following 16 states:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Click here to apply or to learn more.
Sustainable Farming Grants
Sustainable farming is quickly becoming a top priority for both farmers and government, and in that vein, there are some grant programs available for those willing to voluntarily work towards land and farming sustainability to ensure our lands continue to work for us better and longer than they would have otherwise.
Increasing sustainability is a win-win for you because it also helps increase your profits once you have systems in place, so take a look at the available options.
This program helps farmers improve the sustainability and conservation of their land, and at the same time, helps increase the strength of their farm. Working in partnership with this program will ensure you increase productivity and protect the value of your land.
This is a competitive application program, so farm records must be established with the Farm Service Agency to determine all the agricultural or private forest land in your control. You must also have at least two resource concerns, and you must agree to address at least one during the term of the contract. Once it’s been decided that you qualify for the program, evaluators will pinpoint how well your current and future management system will address national, state, and local natural resource priorities and then will be rated against other, similar eligible applications. The highest scoring applications will receive contract offers first.
To apply and for more information, contact your local NRCS field office.
Administered by the FSA, this program offers farmers an annual rental payment in return for planting species that improve the health and quality of the environment. This takes environmentally sensitive land out of agricultural production and rebuilds valuable land cover. This program applies to ranchers as well. Contracts typically run from 10 to 15 years.
Click here for more information or to apply. The application process is continuous, but the window for 2018 has closed, so visit the site regularly to know when the 2019 window opens.
Those enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program are also the only farms eligible to take part in the Transition Incentive Program (above).
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is identical to the Conservation Reserve Program. The only difference is that this program enhances the Conservation Reserve Program and is a federal-state partnership. All other terms, benefits, assistance, and eligibility requirements are the same. Unfortunately, you can only enroll in this program if your state is one of those listed below:
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Contact to your local FSA office to see if your land is eligible and to apply.
Wetlands are an often-overlooked component of environmental sustainability and can improve your operations by improving groundwater quality, trapping and breaking down pollutants, preventing soil erosion, reducing downstream flood damage, and providing a habitat for water birds and other wildlife.
That’s why it’s important to make them a priority, so this program, like the previous conservation programs, will also give you an annual payment if you restore some of your land to a wetland state and establish new plant cover. These contracts are also competitive and, when accepted, run for 10 to 15 years.
The eligibility requirements, however, are a little different in that there are restrictions on the land and the amount of acreage. These are a few guidelines:
- The land generally must have been used for agricultural purposes for 3 of the past 10 crop years,
- The land can include a manmade wetland used to process water flow for crop drainage,
- The land can have been used for aquafarming purposes, and
- The land can have been used for prairie wetland overflow purposes.
For this program too, contact your local FSA office to enroll. Enrollment runs all year long.
This program helps farmers and ranchers deal with the weather challenges that come with farming. Better conservation measures can lead to better protection from weather events, cleaner water and air, healthier soil, and better wildlife habitat, all while improving your operations.
To apply, contact your local NRCS field office. You’ll meet with them for a one-to-one session to create the conservation plan that best works for you. Part of the cost of your new conservation plan is covered by this program. And depending on where you land is located, there are over 200 conservation practices to choose from. This program is also competitive, so the best fitting programs for your area will be offered contracts first.
Click here for application and ranking information and payment rates.
State Farmer Grants
Individual states offer more grant programs for farmers and ranchers than does the federal government, so if none of the programs you’ve read about so far are a match for you and your situation, you may have more luck at the state level. From grants to credit, the options are far greater.
Aggie bonds are offered in 16 states and offer beginning farmers and ranchers loans at much lower rates than standard, commercial loans. This program is a federal-state partnership that allows private lenders to offer tax-free bonds to first-time farmers. However, the program is run by each individual state agriculture department, so applicants must meet both federal and state guidelines, such as not using the loan to fund working capital, inventory, or production loans.
Below are the sixteen states currently offering Aggie Bonds:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
As of January 1, 2018, the maximum loan amount you can receive is $533,500. For more information, check out the National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs website.
If you’re a new or beginning farmer in the state of New York, you may qualify for $15,000 to $50,000 in grants, but the catch is you have to match any amount you receive from the grant yourself using cash, lines of credit, or loans.
Projects eligible for this grant include expanding or diversifying agricultural production, and/or extending the agricultural season; and/or advancing innovative techniques that increase sustainable agricultural production practices such as organic farming, food safety, reduction of farm waste, and/or water use.
If you’ve owned and been working a farm in New York that makes at least $10,000 in farm income from sales of agricultural products grown or raised on your operation for less than 10 years and are over 18, you may qualify for this program.
Click here to apply. All applications must be received before January 25, 2019. For more information, contact Bonnie Devine at email@example.com.
Are you at a stage where you’re considering or planning on raising goats? If you live in Texas, you’re in luck. The Department of Agriculture has a cost-matching program that could help bring your plans to life. You could qualify if you’re a resident of Texas between 18 and 46 and are planning on developing a brand new goat farm. Taking over an existing farm does not qualify.
This program accepts applications twice a year, but the most recent window has closed. Keep checking back for the next date!
In partnership with the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund and the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, the Kentucky State University provides grants for farmers who earn less than $250,000/year from their operations. If this sounds like you and you want to improve your business and can document your success, apply for this program now. You could receive $5,000 to $10,000 and an additional $500 for educational training or materials.
Visit their website to apply and to learn more.
This organization hands out grants annually to help all types of farmers transform and strengthen their farms, enhancing their sustainability and financial viability, so they can then become more innovative and not only become more profitable but also help their fellow farmers.
This grant offers grants of up to $9,000 to individual farmers and up to $11,000 for collaborative farmer projects and has two closing dates: the November 30, 2018, early bird date or January 4, 2019. They highly recommend you apply by the early bird date so you have the chance to receive feedback and reapply if needed.
You can apply for this grant online as well. However, be aware that this grant is only available in these counties:
This association awards grants ranging from $500 to $10,000 three times a year to help organizations promote awareness and strengthen agriculture, commercial fishing, and forest products in the six New England states, New York, and New Jersey. They encourage projects submitted by young and beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and farms that promote minority involvement.
specific information about what is to be accomplished and the amount of funding being requested and other sponsoring organizations, if applicable
specific dates for activities and events and whether program/event sponsors will be asked to participate in any manner
specific information on how receipt of the grant will be reported in the recipient's newsletters, press releases, event handouts, and other materials
budget information indicating how the AgEnhancement funds will be used and information regarding the total cost of the project/event/program and the proportion of funding being sought
The state of Minnesota offers this grant for on-farm research and demonstrations for projects that center around sustainable agriculture practices and systems that could make farming more profitable and resource efficient.
If you have a project in mind, this grant could offer you $25,000 to $50,000, but after $25,000, it becomes a cost-matching grant, so keep that in mind when you apply.
This grant is offered to Minnesota livestock farmers and ranchers in good standing to help them improve, update, and modernize their operations. You can use the funds to pay for pay for the purchase, construction, or improvement of buildings or facilities used for livestock, but be prepared to invest at least $4,000 of your own money into the project.
The grant can offer up to $25,000/project with a lifetime maximum of $50,000.
Montana Ranching for Rivers
This organization offers grants to Montana ranchers to encourage them to use riparian pastures for their livestock so they can manage weeds and overgrown vegetation in previously unused areas, to give livestock better access to stream areas, and to decrease maintenance of things such as fencing.
This is a cost-share grant that will cover up to 50% of the expense of fencing, other riparian pasture-related infrastructure, and construction. They will keep offering the grant until the funding is depleted, so just apply online, or contact Jessica Makus at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Sustainable Agriculture Resource and Education has an easy-to-use chart that includes both a portfolio summary and a grants pdf for every state and territory that has even one grant available, so it’s worth a look to see what else may be available in your state.
Other State Grant Programs
There are numerous additional state grant programs for farmers and ranchers, but the ones listed below are closed, at least for now, but it can’t hurt to keep an eye on them to see if they open up again:
Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) Grants Program – Rhode Island
Matching Enterprise Grants for Agriculture – Massachusetts
Wisconsin 30x20 Grant - Wisconsin
Western North Carolina Ag Options – North Carolina
Connecticut Farm Enterprise Transition Grant - Connecticut
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture's Sustainable Food and Agriculture Grant for Women in North Carolina
New York State Veterans Farmer Grant Fund – New York
Fruit Guys Community Fund – California
Frontera Farmer Foundation – Chicago area farms
Southeast Mass Ag Partnership TIE grant - Massachusetts
Private Funding for Goat Farmers
There are a ton of charitable organizations throughout the United States that fund agricultural projects. Most fund a variety of projects in just as many fields, so it’s recommended that you prepare a clear, concise proposal, just as you would if you were writing a grant, and present it to each individual organization.
These organizations have no deadlines to work with and no specific programs/grants. However, it’s still a good idea to search through this list of organizations to determine what may fit best for the project you have in mind.
A well-written, well-presented proposal that contains facts and figures that explain the importance and any far-reaching benefits of a project—and tugs at the heartstrings—could win you the financial support of a private philanthropic organization.
Credit Programs for Goat Farmers
There are thousands upon thousands of credit opportunities for farmers and ranchers throughout the country.
You can find organizations offering loans and microloans at every level: federal, state, and private. Some cater to small farms, beginning farmers, or socially disadvantaged farmers, and some are geared to well-established operations.
If you can’t find a grant that works for you just yet, it’s worth considering looking at one or a combination of these loans because many of them have reasonable interest rates and repayment terms. You can even use these loans to cover your part of the financing for cost-sharing grants.
Loans come in a variety of categories:
- Direct operating loans are more a more general, all purpose loan that can be used to buy livestock and feed, farm equipment, fuel, farm chemicals, insurance, and family living expenses or to make minor improvements or repairs to buildings and fencing. They can even be used for general farm operating expenses if you need to. Interest rates at the FSA sit at 3.75% right now.
- Direct ownership loans are just that: loans meant for buying or enlarging property or buildings. However, you can also use them for soil and water conservation and protection purposes. The rates at the FSA for direct ownership loans are 4.125%.
- Microloans are targeted more toward small and beginning farmers or those operating in a different or specialty niche. They usually require less paperwork and have less requirements. The interest rates for microloans at the FSA are identical to direct loans.
- Guaranteed loans exist to allow lenders to finance farmers that haven’t been able to find commercial funding. With these loans, farmers get access to funding at reasonable rates and lenders get additional loan business and servicing fees. Interested in a guaranteed loan? Take a look at the list of lenders.
Below is list of additional organizations and sites that have the most inclusive lists of available loan opportunities:
6 Tips for Maximizing Your Farm Grants
Applying for a grant or loan can be a larger, more difficult task than you thought at first glance, but if you follow all the instructions, pick up some tips, and pay attention to detail, it can really pay off. Below is a list of tips to help you put together a winning grant or loan application:
- Consider taking a class in grant writing. There are lots out there, usually attached to university or college campuses. You can even take them online, and it’ll give you an edge over many other applicants. Learning how write effect grant proposals will also help you write and fill out better loan applications.
- Make sure you read all the eligibility requirements and the grant or loan description. Many grants are denied simply because they aren’t the best fit with the applying farmer and some loan application results could have a different outcome with clearer writing, purpose, and budget justification.
- Write up your proposal offline. Write, rewrite, rewrite some more, and then cut. Most grant applications have word counts, so this process is crucial to ensure that you’ve included only the most important content. It also gives you the best chance to catch any errors or typos. The same goes for loan applications. Error-free forms give the impression of professionalism and preparation.
- Keep your writing clear, concise, and free of jargon. While you will be writing for experts in general (for grants), they may not be experts in your particular field, so use plain language. That’s especially true when applying for a loan. While the reviewer has experience in farm loans, they don’t live it the way you do. And keep in mind these reviewers have many, many applications to review, so say what you need to say in as few words as possible. Use only the exact right words and lay out your plan clearly so they don’t have to guess or wonder at what you’re getting at.
- Make sure your budget is reasonable, matches the allowable uses in the grant or loan, and is justified. Write a short, clear explanation for each item that explains what it is, why it’s necessary, and how you calculated the cost.
- Last but not least—and certainly the most important—is to always remember your attachments! You don’t get a second chance on this. If you hit send on your application form without attaching your supporting documents, you’re out of the running.
NOTE: The programs listed here aren’t inclusive of every program available. If you are a researcher, an organization, or an educational provider, there are more financing programs available to help improve the agriculture industry.
*This article has used the USDA’s definition of “agriculture”: The science or practice of farming, including growing crops and raising animals for the production of food, fiber, fuel, and other products.