Every day of farming is filled with its own joys and challenges. Perhaps you’re new to farming and need some additional financial resources. Or maybe you’ve been farming for years and have an idea you wish you could pursue in growing production, adding a new stream of income or researching a specific crop or product.
A farm grant is a way to add needed financial resources to your efforts of growth or expansion. One way to launch into something new—whether it’s learning to farm as a beginner or gaining project momentum—is tapping into a grant opportunity.
Research, Research, Research
An internet search may appear to have tons of farm grant opportunities available to you. Looking deeply, though, you may discover that not all are a fit for your needs. For example, many posts are titled as grants but represent loan programs. Some suggest “free money” but aren’t free.
If you’re considering finding a farmgrant opportunity, be prepared to apply careful research skills to your efforts. Keep an eye out for fact sheets about specific grants. Just like weeding in gardens, you’ll need to weed out those that appear to offer some of what you need but aren’t a very close match.
While it’s tempting to pursue the “close enough” fit, this can be detrimental overall. Pursue grants that are the very best match possible. Choosing the right farm grant (or grants) to apply for is essential to your success.
There are many resources for grant funding. From the state level to corporate grants to federal opportunities. Here are just a few locations to begin your search:
- American Agri-Women
- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
- New Farmer Grant Fund
- Rodale Institute
- Simply Organic Giving Fund
- Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grants
- Value-Added Producer Grant Program
- Women and Minorities in Science, Technology, and Mathematics Field Program
You may also explore farm grant funding available through your state’s soil and water conservation district, land grant universities, farm bureaus and departments of natural resources to name a few.
Once you have narrowed your search, become a student of the grant you think you’d like to pursue. Read carefully and thoroughly through the request for proposal (aka RFP). Be sure you’re clear on what the grantor will fund and whether it’s a strong fit for the project for which you desire funding.
This is essential. Grant funding is a very competitive process, so pay close attention to projects that will be funded by the grantor.
If you’re seeking a way to start a farm or purchase land, grants are generally not an option. Instead, understand that grants may enable you to expand a specific part of your farming business or provide funds for a new venture on your existing farm.
The Grant Cycle
Just like farming, grants are generally available on a cyclical basis. As you research and identify a grant you want to pursue, you’ll need to be mindful of the proposal deadline. Meeting deadlines is a critical part of the process. If the deadline is months away, break the grant development into doable steps so that you aren’t waiting until the last minute to develop your proposal.
While planting and harvesting may be weather dependent, grant writing isn’t. If there is more than one farm grant you would like to pursue, create a writing calendar so you can prepare proposals over time.
Grants often ask similar questions. As you develop answers to one grant’s questions, you’re also developing content that can be recycled and tweaked for another proposal. Nothing is wasted when it comes to writing the narrative of your farm.
Tell Your Story!
Grant writing is really a story-telling process. Whether you’re part of generational farming or you’re new to the business, it’s important to put your story into words. Being able to describe yourself, your purpose and intention and what it is you’re seeking is challenging and fun. It can also be time-consuming.
Here’s where understanding the exact parameters of the grant will enable you to write and then fine-tune your proposal.
Pay close attention to the directions for the grant. Word or character counts matter if they are described with each question. If you make changes in what you’ve written, go back and be sure you’re still within the word count. Carefully read each question and answer it with close attention to exactly what is being asked. If the question is multilayered, include in the answer all aspects of the question.
A key aspect of your proposal is the budget. First, request an amount aligned with the funder’s giving. It may seem like a good idea to ask for more than they traditionally give, but this can simply get your proposal thrown out.
Be very careful with your request. Following the parameters of how the budget is to be presented to the letter. If the amount you seek needs to be outlined in detail, break it down according to what the grantor asks for. Use caution in your request. It’s recommended that you not exceed the amount the funder gives in your proposal.
Know your strong suit. If you’re great at telling the story of your farming business but numbers aren’t really your thing, seek help. A business partner, friend, colleague or experienced financial person can help you provide the correct numbers for your proposal.
In the end, you don’t want any mathematical errors in your budget! Triple check every detail before submissions.
Perhaps you’ve found what seems like the perfect grant for our farming operation. Take steps to learn more! On the grantor’s website can you find a listing of previous recipients? It’s worth carefully studying their projects, funding amounts and process.
You may reach out to someone who received the grant and ask more questions. How did they go about applying? Did they apply more than once before winning an award? What did they learn from the process? Do they have any tips? Do they know a grant manager for the program they can refer you to?
If the grant manager is identified on the grant’s website, reach out to that individual. Introduce yourself and schedule an exploratory conversation. This conversation is the place to float your idea. Prepare in advance so that you’re respectful of the individual’s time.
Have your questions ready. Be as specific as possible. Remember, you’re also making a first impression. This person is likely taking a few notes about you—so you could consider it an interview of sorts. Most of all you’re seeking to build a connection that will help your proposal rise to the surface during the review process.
Whether you’re interviewing a recipient or the grants manager, be curious, respectful and appreciative! If you discover your project isn’t the right fit for this funder, stay the course, you’re one step closer to submitting a proposal in the best possible circumstances to win an award.
Careful review and understanding of the funds available from a grantor will remain essential through the entire process. Know that some grantors desire that you have matching funds available from your existing resources. You’ll need to be prepared to verify this in the application process.
Other funders will inquire about your track record. They want to know if you’ve received and managed awards before. Small grant awards can help you work your way toward larger awards.
Winning an Award
It can be thrilling to win your first grant award. Congratulations if that is you! Now comes another level of the process. Once you’ve been notified of your award, pay close attention to instructions that arrive with your notification. They’ll make clear the expectation of reporting on how you spent this generous gift.
Depending upon the organization, you may be required to provide receipts, detailed notes or standard accounting practices based on the size and scope of your award. You may need to solicit expertise in that case to be sure you fulfill the responsibilities related to your award.
This is another critical part of the process. Winning more awards to fund your efforts may hinge on your success in acquiring grants—no matter how small—as well as recordkeeping and management of grant funds. Ultimately, you want to be able to demonstrate your capacity for handling funds provided through
a granting organization.
Details, Details, Details
Just like farming, grant submission is all about attention to details. Whether it’s seeds and fertilizer or weather or record keeping, you already know a lot about paying attention to details. When it comes to grants, seasons with application deadlines exist. As you research grant opportunities and explore your options, look closely at submission deadlines, be observant of projects which received awards in the last three years and take time to speak to past recipients.
Another way to support your grant writing knowledge and expertise is to volunteer to be a grant reviewer with a local agency. This is an excellent way to learn more about what grant funders and administrators are looking for when reviewing an application.
Learn all you can even as you begin to make notes about your own project or idea. Successful grant proposals hinge on your attention to detail. Answer all of the questions clearly and concisely within the word or character count. Turn your grant proposal in early or on time. These details can determine whether your proposal makes it past an initial review.
Finally, try not to be discouraged if you don’t receive an award. Follow up by visiting with a grant writer to learn how you can do better next time. Perhaps find someone who will coach you through the process.
Or, better yet, reach out to the granting organization to ask questions about your proposal or the process. Find out where you fell short. Be curious about how your grant did or did not measure up compared to the competition. This is useful information, and it lets the granting agency know that you have a desire to improve your application in the future.
Grant writing is a process of relationship building. Approach the process with that in mind, stay curious and ask questions so that you can submit the best possible proposal.
What Projects Are Eligible?
If you’re wondering what farm projects grants can cover, here are some examples of topical areas that Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grants can address.
- cover crops
- crop rotations
- high tunnels and season extension
- integrated systems
- local and regional food systems
- no-till and conservation tillage
- on-farm renewable energy
- pastured livestock and rotational grazing
- pest and weed management
- small ruminants
- sustainable communities
This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2023 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.