USDA Seeks Applications for Grants to Help Socially-Disadvantaged Producers

Taylor Hillman General

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting applications to provide technical assistance to socially-disadvantaged groups in rural areas.

“These grants will help socially-disadvantaged business owners develop the tools and skills they need to grow their enterprises and succeed at creating jobs and expanding economic opportunities in rural areas,” Vilsack said. “American agriculture is becoming increasingly diverse in many ways, with more minorities and women seeking to enter the field, as well as greater diversity in the age of farmers, the size of operations, in production methods, and in the types of crops being grown. All of these forms of diversity help strengthen U.S. agriculture for the future.”

Funding will be made available through USDA’s Socially-Disadvantaged Groups Grant Program (formerly the Small, Socially-Disadvantaged Producer Grant Program), which assists organizations that provide technical assistance to socially-disadvantaged groups in rural areas. Examples of technical assistance are conducting feasibility studies, developing business and strategic plans, and providing leadership training.

USDA plans to make up to $3 million in grants available. The maximum award under this notice is $175,000. More information on how to apply can be found on page 28937 of the May 20 Federal Register. Applications submitted by mail must be postmarked by July 20, 2015. Electronic applications must be submitted at no later than midnight Eastern Time July 14, 2015.

Eligible applicants include groups of cooperatives, cooperative development centers and individual cooperatives that serve socially-disadvantaged groups. The cooperatives or centers can be located in any area, but the groups assisted must be located in an eligible rural area. Also, the majority of the governing body of the organization must be compromised of individuals who are members of socially-disadvantaged groups.

USDA Rural Development is encouraging applications for projects in census tracts with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. All grants are awarded through a national competition.

The program is making a difference in many rural areas. For example, in 2013, the Southern California Focus on Cooperation (SCFC) received a $200,000 Small, Socially-Disadvantaged Producer Grant to provide technical assistance to help 95 refugee immigrant and minority farmers improve their productive capacity, increase revenue, and strengthen their ability to govern and manage their cooperative businesses.

Many of the farmers benefiting from the project had little or no access to formal schooling and had been persecuted and oppressed for years in their native land. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), in concert with SCFC, developed marketing channels including various farmers markets and restaurants where the refugee farmers could sell their produce. Farmers have learned how to manage these marketing channels themselves, without assistance from IRC, and have gained new clients. They have also increased the level of cooperation among Hispanic, Korean and African farmer groups. These groups are working toward merging their efforts to form a single cooperative. The technical assistance provided by SCFC has enabled these farmers to build skills that have truly been life changing.

President Obama’s historic investments in rural America have made our rural communities stronger. Under his leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities.