Could a farm grant help your New York farm expand its capacity?

Elizabeth Higgins, agent with Cornell Cooperative Extension Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture Program, recently presented as a webinar, “Current and Upcoming Grant Programs for Fruit and Vegetable Farmers.”

“Some of these grants are complicated, so planning ahead is key,” Higgins said.

The purpose of the New Farmer Grant Fund, founded by the New York State Empire State Development, is to help beginning farms improve their profitability. While the name “beginning” in the title might make it sound like its purpose is to aid farmers start a farm, Higgins said that the farms must prove their profitability. Its intention is to help farms begin new revenue streams, extend the growing season or expand their size, not simply begin. Eligible activities could include building high tunnels or additional barn space or acquiring equipment.

“It has more of an economic development thrust,” Higgins said.

The amount of the grant is unkown, but Higgins said that in the past, $1 million has been available and $4.19 million has been allocated since 2014.

“It’s been around about five years,” she added. “There are not a lot of grant programs for agriculture. It funds infrastructure for production, which is very unusual.”

Eligible applicants are farm businesses in which all owners are in the first 10 years of owning interest in any farm operation. Higgins said that this could exclude some multi-generational farms with older generation ownership. The farm must also operate in New York and have at least $10,000 in sales of agricultural products grown or raised on the farm.

Farmers must pay for the items up front and then receive reimbursement for the grant amount, which means farmers must prove that they have the money needed.

Although the grant’s exact parameters haven’t been released yet — Higgins anticipates this in mid-October — she encourages producers to prepare if they’re interested. The applications are due in January.

“That’s a pretty quick turn-round time for applications of this complexity,” she said.

She believes that this year’s grant rules will be similar to last year, since it hasn’t changed dramatically in the past four years.

The past grants have included a minimum project size of $15,000 grant or $30,000 project and a maximum of $50,000 for a $100,000 or more project.

“Most grants have been in the $20,000 range,” Higgins said.

Higgins emphasized that the grant is for farms making money.

“This is not a grant to support a failing farm,” she said. “It’s for farms that are growing. If you want to keep going, you won’t be a successful applicant. You should be able to show this grant will make a difference.”

Farmers will have to also demonstrate they can obtain any building permits or certifications from local municipalities that they can perform the work they want to.

“Get your ducks in a row,” she said. “They won’t want to give a grant and find you can’t do it.”

Higgins added that farms operating on leased land may be eligible; however, more permanent structures like buildings “will be a harder sell,” she said.

Farmers will also need a business plan and a bid for projects involving outside work and purchases.

Last year’s grant included points for various aspects of the application, including thoughtfulness of application (10), business plan/supporting materials (20), applicant experience and financial soundness (15), farm operation and project implementation (15), project budget and match (20), financial need (10), advances farmer’s career in farming (10).

“Only applications with 80 points or higher were considered,” Higgins said.

The application will be avilable at bit.ly/NYFarmGrant.

“Look at the 2018 application to get an idea of what you’ll need this year,” Higgins said. “There’s lots of letters of support, documentation and a pretty decent business plan. You may have one, but it might not be sufficient. You’ll have to check about permits. It’s not a throw-it-together type of application. It strongly favors sustainable and organic farming, so think about how the grant could have an benefit for the environment. Look at who was funded in the past.”

Lancaster Farming