By Tom Driscoll, Director of NFU Foundation and Conservation Policy
As we discussed last week on the Beginning Farmer Forum, the business infrastructure – such as federally-inspected livestock processing facilities for smaller orders and mills that service demand for local feed or flour – that would help beginning farmers connect with emerging markets often doesn’t exist where it’s needed.
Beginning farmers in areas lacking necessary business infrastructure may be encouraged to learn that small and emerging rural businesses can apply for a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development (RD) grant to support technical assistance and training through the Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) program. In 2016, grant projects in North Dakota included the City of Anamoose’s renovation of a former bank for use as a restaurant featuring locally grown ingredients, food entrepreneur training through the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and outfitting a commercial kitchen for local growers, caterers, and food processors with the Tuttle Betterment Club, Inc. It’s easy to see how projects could be tailored to beginning farmer’s needs; a local grain mill could train new employees and train back office staff on new accounting requirements for the growing business, or an expanding grain storage facility can pay for a right-of-way for expanding access to roadways.
Eligible businesses must have fewer than 50 employees and annual gross revenue of less than $1 million. As with Business and Industry Loan Guarantees, individual businesses do not apply for the grant. Instead, they should seek partnership with a local government, state agency, nonprofit, or other qualified rural public entity to facilitate projects that help businesses train employees for growth or accomplish the essential tasks related to accommodating business growth. Grants generally range from $10,000 to $500,000. Grant size adversely affects applications, but the program does not have a formal floor or ceiling. Projects cannot be located in communities of 50,000 or more residents.
Applications compete with each other based on evidence of job creation at local businesses, percentage of non-federal funds brought to the project, adverse economic conditions in the project area, consistency with economic endeavors in the area, and the grantee’s ability to provide valuable guidance to small businesses.
Local or state RD offices accept applications once annually. Beginning farmers can work with community groups to organize and collaborate on an RBDG application by identifying businesses that could enhance their access to food systems and identifying ways that technical assistance would create jobs and serve the community.
Do you know of rural businesses that could enhance your access to markets if they were to develop or expand? Are there nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, or other community groups that may be able to provide assistance to enable or facilitate such growth or expansion? Interested parties can learn more here.
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