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USDA's NIFA invests $53m in building up farmers

Grants support beginning farmers, stress-related mental health issues and military veterans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA) announced grant investments of more than $53 million across three unique programs for U.S. farmers, ranchers and military veterans to support American agriculture.

“Agriculture offers promising career opportunities, particularly in farming and ranching,” acting NIFA director Parag Chitnis said. “Federal investments in programs that help new farmers get into the business, support military veterans who are considering farming and ranching as a new career and address serious stress-related mental health issues among farmers are critical to ensuring our next generation of food producers are able to successfully meet the challenges facing agriculture.”

While there are many excellent opportunities in agriculture, beginning farmers and ranchers have unique needs for education, training and technical assistance. It’s vital that those within their first 10 years of operation have access to capital, land, knowledge and information to help improve their operations’ profitability and sustainability. NIFA’s Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program awarded more than $16.7 million in 48 projects to deliver the support new farmers and ranchers need.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic caused an increase in stress around the world, stress-related mental health was already a rising concern across farm communities coast to coast. NIFA introduced a competitive grants program, the Farm & Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), reauthorized by the 2018 farm bill, that supports projects to provide stress assistance for people in farming, ranching and other agriculture-related occupations as a conduit to improve behavioral health awareness, literacy and more favorable outcomes for them and their families.

This year, NIFA awarded grants to four regional entities contributing to the FRSAN. Long term, this three-year funding totaling $28.7 million will ensure that vulnerable agricultural producers and their families have more options for high-quality, affordable help close to home. FRSAN awardees for fiscal 2020 are:

  • $7.187 million for the North Central Farm & Ranch Stress Assistance Center, "Engaging Programs to Support Producer Wellbeing," University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill.
  • $7,164 million for "Building an Inclusive & Comprehensive Network for Farm & Ranch Stress Assistance in the Northeast," National Young Farmers Coalition, Hudson, N.Y.
  • $7,187 million for FRSAN Southern Region – University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., and
  • $7,183 million for the Western Regional Agricultural Stress Assistance Program – Washington State University, Pullman, Wash.

In addition to opportunities available for military veterans in the Beginning Farmers & Ranchers program, NIFA also offers the Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Program (AgVets). NIFA announced that it is awarding $9.6 million to 17 projects that will equip military veterans with skills, training and experience for careers in food and agriculture and may also offer workforce readiness and employment prospects. Moreover, these investments will strengthen the personal finances of rural military veterans and military families and help grow their communities.

AgVets projects offer on-site, hands-on training and classroom education leading to a comprehensive understanding of successful farm and ranch operations and management practices. The program has supported more than 400 veterans over the last two years, and these new projects will continue to create pathways for military veterans interested in agricultural careers.

TAGS: Policy
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