Farm Grants: How to Get Free Money in 2023

Business grants can provide capital to help farmers and ranchers finance their operations — especially as the agricultural industry continues to change and advance. Unlike small-business loans, farm grants offer free financing that doesn’t need to be repaid.

Finding and applying for these grants can be time-consuming, however, and competition is stiff. Nevertheless, the time and effort may be worth it if you can secure free funds for your farm.

To help you get started, here’s a list of federal, state and private farm grants.

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Federal government farm grants

The federal government offers a variety of farm grants through the Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can browse grant options through the agency’s website, which includes information regarding eligibility and how to apply. Here are a few federal farm grants to consider:

Renewable Energy Systems & Energy Improvement Grants

Part of the Rural Energy for America Program, these farm grants help agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy-efficiency improvements. Eligible grant projects include buying, installing and/or improving systems such as:

  • Cooling or refrigeration units.

Farmers can also apply to use the funds to purchase new energy-efficient equipment for agricultural production and processing.

Grants are available in amounts from $2,500 to $1 million for renewable energy systems and $1,500 to $500,000 for energy efficiency projects. The USDA will provide up to 50% of your total eligible project costs.

To qualify, businesses and agricultural producers must be located in rural areas with populations of 50,000 residents or fewer.

Farmers Market Promotion Program

The Farmers Market Promotion Program provides grant funding to help increase community access and the availability of locally and regionally produced products. These small-business grants can be awarded to farms and other agricultural businesses, Community Supported Agriculture networks and associations, and regional farmers’ market authorities, among other organizations.

The program offers three types of farm grants based on how the funding will be used:

  • Capacity Building grants. Eligible projects include market analysis, strategic planning, producer or market manager education, and consumer outreach.

  • Community Development Training and Technical Assistance grants. These grants can be used for marketing and promotion assistance as well as technical assistance for compliance with regulatory and buyer requirements.

  • Turnkey Marketing and Promotion grants. For these grants, applicants must agree to conduct a minimum of three marketing- and promotion-related activities.

Grant funding is available in amounts ranging from $50,000 to $500,000, depending on the type of grant you choose. Like other USDA farm grants, you’ll need to provide a 25% match to qualify for the program.

Value-Added Producer Grant

The Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) offers funding to help agricultural producers generate new products, create and expand marketing opportunities, and increase income. Grants are available in two options: Planning grants are available up to $75,000 and working capital grants are available up to $250,000.

These farm grants are available across the U.S. and can be particularly good options for beginning farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers and small farmers, as these groups may be prioritized in the application process.

Although the grant cycle is closed for 2023, you can refer to the USDA’s website or Grants.gov for information on 2024 opportunities.

State farm grants

Because federal farm grants are limited in number and often very competitive, you may have better success looking for grants at the regional, state and local levels. Grant programs and availability will vary from state to state, but these options may help you get started:

State Departments of Agriculture

Many states offer government farm grants through their Department of Agriculture. These grants may provide funding for farm management and development, agricultural research, marketing and promotion, energy efficiency, climate action, and technology advancement, among other purposes.

As another example, in Missouri, agribusinesses in urban areas can apply for the state’s Urban Agriculture Cost-Share Grant Program. This government farm grant provides funding to promote urban agriculture, supporting projects such as business and marketing plan development, feasibility studies, and community gardens.

You may also find that local colleges and universities, community organizations and agricultural networks offer state-specific grants for farms.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Grants

The SARE program, funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, offers farm grants and education in every state. SARE is divided into four regions — North Central, Northeast, Southern and Western — each working separately to run grant programs for the states in that region.

Available grants vary based on your region and the programs that are running at any given time. For example, the Western SARE division is currently offering a Farmer/Rancher grant that is designed to help farms create sustainable solutions.

Farmers will work with technical advisors to perform research and implement their projects. Grants are available in amounts up to $25,000 — or up to $29,000 if three or more farmers are working together. Applications close on October 25, 2023.

You can check your region’s SARE website to see what farm grants are available. Each state also has a coordinator who conducts educational programs; you can contact that person for more information about funding opportunities.

Private and community farm grants

Some private companies and nonprofit organizations offer business grants for farming. Here are some options:

Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge

If your business is developing new solutions in the agriculture industry, this startup farm grant competition may be a good option for you. The Ag Innovation Challenge offers startup grants to businesses that are creating innovative solutions to address issues facing farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

The Farm Bureau awards a total of $165,000 to 10 businesses, with the winner receiving $50,000. Semi-finalists attend a live pitch competition and networking event where they’re able to present their ideas to Farm Bureau members, investors and industry representatives.

Young Farmer Grant Program

The National Young Farmers Coalition, in partnership with Chipotle, offers beginning farm grants through its annual Young Farmer Grant Program. Each spring, the program provides $5,000 grants to young farmers and ranchers, in addition to a one-year membership to the National Young Farmers Coalition.

To qualify for this grant, you must be the operation owner of a farm or ranch, or be planning to start your own operation. You must be between 18 and 40 years old and be able to show how the grant funds will help you get closer to achieving your career goals as a farmer.

These grants are a good option for farmers in traditionally underserved groups, as the coalition commits to provide a minimum of 50% of its grants to Black, Indigenous and other people of color, as well as female-identifying, non-binary and transgender farmers.

Fund-a-Farmer Grants

The Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) runs the annual Fund-a-Farmer grant program, which offers funding to farmers who improve animal welfare and expand humane farming practices. In 2023, the program issued over $250,000 to 87 farms.

Although program specifics may change slightly from year to year, many eligible projects have focused on building fencing, improving water systems or building/improving farm animal housing. FACT maintains a list of past projects on its website.

Applications for the 2024 grant cycle open on November 1, 2023. You can sign up for email notifications on the FACT website to receive more information about new opportunities.

Brighter Future Fund

American Farmland Trust administers the Brighter Future Fund grant program, which is designed to fund projects that help farmers grow and sustain their farms. These farm grants are available in amounts of up to $10,000 and can be awarded to an individual or a farm family.

Eligible projects fall into two categories: 1) professional services, and 2) equipment or infrastructure costs. Professional services might include working with a business or financial planner, whereas equipment costs may consist of purchasing machinery to help improve soil health or crop quality.

You can review qualification requirements and apply for these farming grants on the American Farmland Trust website. The 2023 cycle concluded on July 15, so check back to that website for updates regarding the 2024 cycle.

The FruitGuys Community Fund

The FruitGuys Community Fund offers grants designed specifically for small- and medium-sized farms. These grants of up to $5,000 are for working farms with at least one year of experience that are looking to improve their operations.

You can submit your project and application through the fund’s website; up to 20 finalists will be invited to submit full applications. Submissions are evaluated based on the project’s ability to help farms operate more sustainably and to strengthen community.

Project ideas may include water conservation, natural pest control, energy efficiency, and expanding free or low-cost Community Supported Agriculture shares, among other options. The 2024 grant cycle will open in January.

Veteran farm grants

These grants are designed to help veterans in the farming and agricultural industries.

Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund

The Farmer Veteran Coalition provides veteran farm grants through its Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund program. This annual program is designed to offer assistance to veterans who are beginning their careers in farming or ranching.

Unlike many other grant programs, however, this fund doesn’t issue funds to the farmers themselves — instead, it pays third-party vendors for items the individual has identified that will help launch their farm business.

These veteran farm grants range in amounts from $1,000 to $5,000 and can finance purchases such as livestock, fencing, storage freezers, tractors, feed and other equipment.

To qualify for this program, you must be a member of the Farmer Veteran Coalition (which is free to join), have served or are currently serving in any branch of the U.S. Military, and received an “Honorable” characterization of service upon discharge from the military.

You must also have an agricultural business in operation and a business plan to submit with your application.

Alternatives to farm grants

Grants may not be the right funding option for every business. If you’d like to explore other options, here are a few you might consider:

  • Farm loans. These products can help you cover operating expenses, purchase livestock, buy farm machinery and agricultural equipment, as well as construct farm buildings.

  • SBA loans. Government-guaranteed SBA loans can be used for a variety of farming purposes. These loans offer competitive interest rates and long repayment terms.

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