Top Federal Grants for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

May 4, 2022

If you’re a new rancher or farmer, you’re probably looking for financing to get your operation up, running and profitable. Securing funding for your farm or ranch can require a number of time-consuming or confusing steps that eat into your time working in the field.

The good news: There are federal funding opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers like you - especially those who are looking to implement regenerative farming practices and amplifying the sustainability of your ranch. What’s more, some of these programs have special perks for new producers if you qualify!

Keep reading to learn more about your eligibility for federal funding and to get tips on how to start as soon as today.

Make Your Farm More Sustainable with EQIP

We honestly can’t stop talking about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program! The goal of this USDA program is to address resource concerns and improve farm conservation practices. That means if you want to adopt conservation farming practices, EQIP has you covered. EQIP is all about optimizing your natural resources so that you can keep producing for years to come.

EQIP provides incentive payments to implement specific practices on your farm. If you’ve been wanting to try out a conservation practice like cover crops or no and low-till farming but are worried about the additional cost, this can de-risk that trial. Since EQIP is a cost-share program, these incentive payments will cover some (or sometimes close to all) of your costs in implementing the practices. 

Maximum Funding Amount for EQIP:

Dollar amounts vary by practice and state, but generally that amount is up to 75 percent of the cost of your project. If you’re a historically underserved producer, you can receive up to 90 percent, with 50 percent of that funding upfront.

EQIP Pros:

From fencing to irrigation to hoop houses, EQIP has a relatively extensive list of eligible projects. And for historically underserved producers (like beginning farmers, recent veterans and farmers of color), you qualify for increased and advanced payments under EQIP, meaning you’ll get more money sooner to help you get started. 

Something to Consider About EQIP:

EQIP does not cover any practices that you’ve done before receiving the grant. It can also take quite a bit of time from application submission to receipt of funds, anywhere from three to nine months after the application deadline. EQIP applications are competitive, with only 20 - 30 percent of applicants receiving funding, so make sure to do everything you can to be a competitive applicant.

FarmRaise specializes in supporting your EQIP application efforts. But before you get started with us, here’s the first step to applying: See if you’re eligible. 

It only takes a few minutes to check if qualify for EQIP funding. Take our free Eligibility Quiz to see if your operation or project is a good fit!

See if you’re eligible for farm funding through EQIP.

solar panels on a farm using REAP funds - FarmRaise
You can use REAP funds for projects like purchasing, installing and constructing solar panels which could also offset your operating costs while helping the environment.

Make Energy Efficiency Updates with REAP

The Rural Energy for America Program supports renewable energy installation and efficiency updates on your farm. Types of projects vary from adding solar panels to your barn to updating your refrigeration to a more efficient system.

Maximum Funding Amount for REAP:

Funding for REAP varies depending on how much you apply for, your state or territory and whether you apply for a REAP grant or loan. In this article, we’re talking about REAP grants. Grants can reach upwards of half a million dollars. 

REAP Pros:

REAP provides grant funding perfect for beginning farmers looking to cut down their electric bill. Projects on any part of the farm qualify, whether producing or processing your harvest.

Something to Consider About REAP:

REAP grants can only cover 25 percent of the total cost of the project. You can also apply for a guaranteed loan for up to 50 percent of the project’s total cost, which will reduce your out-of-pocket expenses to 25 percent. Pay attention to tax credits for going renewable in your state – you might be able to cover even more of your costs through local programs.

Applications for REAP are accepted on a year-round basis at your local USDA office but are typically reviewed in the fall and spring.

Get funding alerts for the Rural Energy for America Program sent to your inbox.

Market Your Agricultural Goods with VAPG

Once you have your production system locked in, a Value-Added Producer Grant is an excellent grant funding opportunity. For beginning farmers who want to expand their marketing capacity and offerings, VAPG is worth looking into.

VAPG helps producers post-harvest, specifically in the processing and marketing phases of getting their product to the consumer. If you have an idea to turn your lavender into soap, your tomatoes into sauce or your grapes into wine, apply for VAPG. This grant can also support local market expansion efforts to get your products into the hands of customers (think: setting up a booth at a farmers’ market).

Maximum Funding Amount for VAPG:

Planning grants may be up to $75,000. Working capital grants to implement your idea can be up to $250,000. Want to understand the difference between planning and working capital? Check out our 1,000 foot view of the VAPG program.

VAPG Pros:

Beginning farmers are eligible for priority status under this grant funding program. You can submit a grant for planning activities or working capital associated with your idea. Get started early, though. These grants can be competitive.

Something to Consider About VAPG:

You’ll need to provide a written narrative of your proposal and match 100 percent of the grant funds received. If you’re looking for support through the process, FarmRaise can connect you with a grant writer to improve your chances of securing funding. 

VAPG grant applications are typically due in spring.

What if I Don’t Have Land Yet?

EQIP, REAP and VAPG are only available to producers who already rent or own land. If you need to take that first step, check out these resources:

Your 2-minute Briefing on USDA Farm Loans

How to Get a Farm Ownership Loan with No Down Payment

Tips on Securing Funding for a New Farm

- Additional resources for aspiring farmers who have no land yet

Stay Up to Date on Funding Deadlines

When it comes to farm funding, the process can be full of paperwork and require a strong relationship with your local USDA offices. You'd also need to stay up to date on deadlines that vary by year and county. That’s a lot of time and effort off-farm. FarmRaise specializes in aggregating farm funding opportunities in one place and sends you alerts about upcoming deadlines for programs you might qualify for. Get started with FarmRaise to see what programs are out there for you!

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