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

Become more sustainable with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

We honestly can’t stop talking about EQIP! 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 50 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:

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

Something to consider:

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 20 - 30 percent of applicants receiving funding, so make sure to do everything you can to be a competitive applicant.

It only takes a few minutes to see if you’re eligible for EQIP funding. Take our Eligibility Quiz to see if your operation or project is a good fit!

solar panels on a farm using REAP fundsi
You can use REAP funds to purchase, install and construct systems like solar panels which could also offset your costs while helping the environment.

Make energy efficiency updates with the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP)

REAP 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 talk about REAP grants.

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:

This program can only cover 25 percent of the total cost of the project. You can also apply for a guaranteed loan for 50 percent of the total cost through REAP, 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!

Get started with the Rural Energy for America Program here.

Market your agricultural goods with a Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG)

Once you have your production system locked in, VAPG is an excellent grant funding opportunity for beginning farmers who want to expand their marketing capacity and offerings. 

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 to implement your idea can be up to $250,000. 

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.

Something to consider:

You’ll need to provide a written narrative of your proposal and match 100 percent of the grant funds received.

Get started with a VAPG application here.

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

Start with a farm number

While there are dozens of grants and loans out there for beginning farmers, these tried and true federal programs will take some of the financial strain out of your early farming years. But the first thing you’ll need to get started (other than land and grit) is a farm number. If you’re looking for guidance during your application process, a Farmer Success Advocate can help you along the way - from farm number to business plan. Get started today!

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Take the free Eligibility Quiz
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