Are There Grants for Farmers?

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A common dream of those who own a few acres of unused land is to start up some type of farm enterprise. Across the state, the local Extension agent is often seen as the person to call for advice on how to get started. And across the state, one of the first questions we hear is: “Are there grants for farmers?”

The short answer is “yes,” but there are a whole bunch of caveats. 

Caveat number one is that true grants, where an organization gives out money without a requirement to repay, are scarce. In North Carolina there are only a handful of such organizations, some of which are only offered to farmers in a certain part of the state.

Caveat number two is that most of the true grant programs are competitive. Funders almost always have limited funds, and are looking to give money to projects that show innovation, broad collaboration, and wide community impact 

Caveat number three is that  “free” money is usually not truly free. There is usually an involved application process, plus specific documentation and reporting requirements. Grant recipients will invest significant amounts of time on “paperwork”. 

The fourth caveat has to do with timing. Grants are usually offered on a specific timeline, with the application due by a certain deadline. 

Also keep in mind that if there is a grant program to help people “start” farming, I’ve never heard of it (caveat number five, if you are counting). More commonly, such grants are offered to people who have already started an enterprise but could use a small boost to expand or develop further. 

The bottom line is that if you want to start farming, you will almost certainly have to find other sources of money for the major portion of financing. That could be savings, loans from friends and family, loans from conventional banks, an online fundraising site, or other sources. It’s also worth looking into loan programs offered through the US Department of Agriculture, which may carry very low-interest rates compared to conventional loans for those who qualify.

Before heading down that road, it would be wise to do a very careful assessment of the risk involved. Starting a farm enterprise is just like starting any business. New businesses in general have a very high rate of failure. And if anything, I suspect farm enterprises are riskier than average.

One great resource to help you assess that risk and research financing options is the Small Business Center at your local community college. Another option is the NC Farm School program which will walk you through developing a complete business plan.

One grant option for farmers in certain North Carolina counties (including Vance and Warren) is the NC AgVentures program.