USDA Funding Available

The 2501 Program


Adapted from our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

For decades, the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the “2501 Program”) has served as the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the needs of family farmers and ranchers of color.

Over the past 20 years, the 2501 program has invested millions of dollars into our nation’s community-based organizations, land grant universities, and cooperative extension. This funding has been used by grant recipients to develop and strengthen innovative outreach and technical assistance programs and other resources targeted at historically underserved producers.

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of nearly ten million dollars to support dedicated outreach and technical assistance programs to reach underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers in order to increase their participation in federal loan, conservation, and rural development programs.

The 2016 Funding Cycle

Grant proposals for this year’s funding cycle are due July 29, which gives organizations a much shorter application window than previous years.

Many applicants to the 2501 program are non-profit and community-based organizations that work directly with farmers of color across the country, and may unfortunately, have minimal resources with which to meet such a quick turnaround for grant applications. NSAC has persistently urged USDA consider the needs and abilities of small-medium-scale farmers and food/farm organizations when issuing calls for proposals or funding opportunities. We will continue to work with USDA to expand the application period for 2501 FOAs to at least sixty days in future funding cycles.

The rationale for the very short window to submit proposals this year is the extreme lateness in releasing the funding availability notice. Normally such a request for proposals would be issued early in the fiscal year, during the winter months. Releasing the notice at the end of the ninth month of the fiscal year necessitates a short period to submit proposals and still allow for proposal review, evaluation, and awards during the remainder of the fiscal year. This unfortunate situation should never be repeated again. NSAC will continue to advocate for better systems to be put in place at USDA for this important program.

Priority Areas

The fiscal year (FY) 2016 FOA has five priority areas, and all project proposals must address at least two of them:

  • Assist socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers in owning and operating successful farms and ranches;
  • Improve participation among socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers in USDA programs;
  • Build relationships between current and prospective socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers and USDA’s local, state, regional and National offices;
  • Introduce agriculture-related information to socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers and ranchers through innovative outreach and technical assistance techniques; and
  • Introduce agricultural education targeting socially disadvantaged youth and beginning farmers and farmworkers, including but not limited to StrikeForce and Promise Zone areas.

The priority on youth projects in targeted zones has been designated by USDA as high-priority, and is a new focus of the program this year.

Grant projects cannot exceed $200,000 and must be limited to one year. Applicants can, however, propose a multi-year initiative, but it will only be funded for one year at a time and must re-compete for future funding in subsequent funding cycles. Organizations may only submit one proposal for funding. No match is required. Non-profit and community-based organizations are eligible and encouraged to apply for funding from this program.

Northeast Projects Funded

USDA has funded a total of 116 projects in 2015 and 2014, 13 of which have been in the NESAWG 12-state region. Funded projects in our region provide technical assistance and training, business planning, and assistance in applying to USDA funding opportunities for producers of color as well as beginning and veteran farmers. Recipients include the following:

For More Information

The Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) for the program can be found in the Federal Register.

Additional details on eligibility can be found in NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to the Farm Bill. Also consult the program’s Frequently Asked Question page for more information.

2014 Farm Bill Cut Funding; More Funding Needed

Despite the strong, historic impact of this program, mandatory funding for 2501 was dramatically cut in the 2014 Farm Bill – from $20 million to $10 million per year. This funding cut couldn’t have come at a worse time; legislators cut funding to 2501 at the same time they expanded the program to also serve the influx of returning military veterans seeking assistance in pursing a career in farming – leaving 2501 with a larger-than-ever applicant base and an abysmal funding outlook.

Underinvestment in the 2501 program ultimately shortchanges our nation’s most chronically underserved farmers and ranchers. By not supporting a program that helps veterans and historically underserved producers to develop and/or maintain viable food and farm businesses, legislators are betting against the future of American agriculture.

This Year’s Appropriations Bill Could Help

Congress has yet to finalize a bill to fund USDA programs and activities for the next fiscal year, which begins on October 1. Draft agriculture funding bills have been approved by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, but have not yet been scheduled for floor debate.

The Senate’s bill provides $3 million in additional funding for the 2501 program. This is far less than the $10 million the President and our sustainable agriculture allies have requested, but will at least channel some urgently needed resources into this critical program, in contrast to the House bill, which provides no additional funding for 2501. We will continue to support additional funding for the 2501 program throughout the FY 2017 appropriations process and hope the final bill includes, at a minimum, the $3 million in additional funding provided in the pending Senate bill.

Photo: Workshop for military service veterans on the business and basics of grading and showing sheep.
Photo Credit: USDA