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The National Center for Appropriate Technology will lead a regional partnership to help more than 300 beginning farmers and ranchers across the Northern Great Plains explore the value, viability, and resilience of raising organic field crops.

NCAT will lead this $600,000 three-year Preparing a Resilient Future project alongside the Montana Organic Association, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society, Center for Rural Affairs, the Intertribal Agriculture Council, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, International Organic Inspectors Association, North Dakota State, and University of Wyoming

“The Preparing a Resilient Future project is unique in that it will help beginning farmers and ranchers fully explore the economic and productive viability of organic systems in the Northern Great Plains,” said NCAT Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist and Project Director Jeff Schahczenski. “NCAT has long-recognized that farmers and ranchers learn best from other farmers and ranchers.”

Unlike most programs focused on beginning farmers and ranchers, the new project targets medium to large-scale field crop and livestock operations. This project was selected in a national competition under the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program funded through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Researchers often assume that beginning organic farmers are smaller-scale operations because of the challenge of finding and acquiring affordable land and high cost of larger-scale machinery. Programs that help beginning farmers tend to focus on organic specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and flowers. Research has shown that only about 25 percent of Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development programs train and educate beginning farmers to focus on commodity field crops such as, wheat, barley, lentils, chickpeas, dry peas and beans and oilseeds as well as beef livestock production.

Why Field Crops?

Interest in growing organic field crops is on the rise in the Northern Great Plains, and there appears to be good reason to think there would be markets for them.

Research shows that organic vegetable and specialty crop growers are meeting the national demand in the U.S. because there’s a net export of their products. At the same time, organically grown field crops are being imported into the U.S. at stable and sometimes increasing rates.

“Organic farming is not prescriptive,” said Jamie Ryan Lockman, Executive Director of the Montana Organic Association and Co-Project Director. “It is a system that requires diverse crops and diverse approaches subject to constant change. Montana is the number one organic wheat- and pulse-producing state in the country; it is uniquely positioned to provide education as well as opportunities to meet, learn, collaborate, mentor, do business, and more.”

Bringing in the Community

NCAT and the project collaborators will host intensive training sessions, one-on-one technical assistance, and on-farm workshops and tours. The training will be conducted in two-day “Organic Academy Road Show” sessions. Importantly, experienced organic farmers and ranchers are some of the lead trainers in this project.  

In addition to the farmers and ranchers taking part, the sessions will include other members of their agricultural communities, including civic leaders, county Extension agents and officials from USDA agencies such as the Farm Service Administration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

That outreach is vital as support for the beginning farmers and to introduce organic farming and ranching to the agricultural community in their area.

Opportunities for Diversity

Over the past seven years, NCAT has helped nearly 900 military veteran farmers through its Armed to Farm training projects around the country.

In addition, NCAT and MOA have undertaken many training workshops that have included tribal members, who make up about 2 percent of all new beginning farmers in the Northern Great Plains.

That emphasis on diversity will be reflected in the Preparing a Resilient Future project, which will include at least 50 veteran, limited-resource, tribal, and socially disadvantaged participants.

“NCAT is a longtime, trusted resource for providing accessible training to farmers and ranchers,” said NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson. “Now we have the opportunity to formally partner with several leading organic and sustainable agriculture organizations and tribal nations to deliver high-quality training to beginning farmers, ranchers, and their community support systems across the Northern Great Plains, creating a recipe for success.”

The Preparing a Resilient Future project will serve farmers and ranchers in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Small-scale farmers, food processors or distributors, or farmers markets financially impacted by Covid-19 can now apply for up to $20,000 to recover costs related to the pandemic. The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is helping food producers access these dollars through the USDA’s Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program. Applications are now open until Nov. 22, 2021.

If you operate a small farm producing specialty crops whose annual revenue is less than $1 million, run a farmers market, food hub, community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, a small food processing business or food manufacturing operation, you may be eligible for grant funding.

According to the USDA, the pandemic-related costs that are recoverable through this grant program relate to the following areas, and include estimating staff time to implement:

  • Workplace Safety: Implementing workplace safety measures to protect against COVID-19 such as providing personal protective equipment, thermometers, cleaning supplies, sanitizers, hand washing stations, installation and purchase of air filters or new signage.
  • Market Pivots: Implementing market pivots to protect against COVID–19. Though not exactly well-defined market pivot are related to cost of changing how you had to operate your enterprise to make it more COVID-19 safe including the staff time to implement these changes. For example, a farmers’ market may have had to restructure their layout to ensure one-way traffic and improve social distancing.
  • Retrofitting Facilities: Retrofitting facilities for worker and consumer safety to protect against COVID–19 such as installation and purchase of protective barriers, walk up windows, heat lamps/heaters, fans, tents, propane, weights, tables chairs and lighting.
  • Transportation: Providing additional transportation options to maintain social distancing and worker and consumer safety to protect against COVID-19 such as securing additional transportation services for workers or establishing new delivery routed or distribution services. For instance, a food hub might have had to shift to delivering food directly to consumers rather than just having to have common distribution point.
  • Worker Housing: Providing additional worker housing resources or services to maintain social distancing or to allow for quarantining of new or exposed employees.
  • Medical: Providing health services to protect workers against COVID-19 including offering or enabling vaccinations, testing, or healthcare treatment of infected employees, including paid leave.

This is not a competitive grant program; grants will be awarded based on eligibility. Funding is not awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis, and the 45-day application period opened October 6.

Before applying, all applicants must obtain a Data Universal Number System (DUNS) number. This DUNS number will be required to receive this grant. More information on how to obtain a DUNS number, plus full eligibility criteria can be found at the USDA’s website: https://usda-prs.grantsolutions.gov/usda.

You can also ask further questions about this program by emailing usda.ams.prs@grantsolutions.gov or call 301-238-5550. NCAT’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program will provide additional support related to accessing this new grant program. Check our website at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG or sign up for our weekly e-newsletter for updates. 

If you’re a small-scale farmer, food processor or distributor, or farmers market and have been financially impacted by Covid-19, you may be able to access up to $20,000 to recover costs related to the pandemic.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) is helping food producers access these dollars through the USDA’s Pandemic Response and Safety Grant Program. Applications will open in early October. Producers should get prepared for the application period now.

If you operate a small farm producing specialty crops whose annual revenue is less than $1 million, run a farmers market, food hub, community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, a small food processing business or food manufacturing operation, you may be eligible for grant funding.

“Food producers provide an essential service for our communities, and these small-scale producers have continued to operate during the pandemic to make sure all of us are fed,” NCAT Executive Director Steve Thompson said. “NCAT is here to help food producers, processors and farmers markets access dollars to keep their doors open.” 

According to the USDA, the pandemic-related costs that are recoverable through this grant program relate to the following areas:

  • Workplace Safety: Implementing workplace safety measures to protect against COVID-19 such as providing personal protective equipment, thermometers, cleaning supplies, sanitizers, hand washing stations, installation and purchase of air filters or new signage.
  • Market Pivots: Implementing market pivots to protect against COVID–19. Though not exactly well-defined market pivot are related to cost of changing how you had to operate your enterprise to make it more COVID-19 safe including the staff time to implement these changes. For example, a farmers’ market may have had to restructure their layout to ensure one-way traffic and improve social distancing.
  • Retrofitting Facilities: Retrofitting facilities for worker and consumer safety to protect against COVID–19 such as installation and purchase of protective barriers, walk up windows, heat lamps/heaters, fans, tents, propane, weights, tables chairs and lighting.
  • Transportation: Providing additional transportation options to maintain social distancing and worker and consumer safety to protect against COVID-19 such as securing additional transportation services for workers or establishing new delivery routed or distribution services. For instance, a food hub might have had to shift to delivering food directly to consumers rather than just having to have common distribution point.
  • Worker Housing: Providing additional worker housing resources or services to maintain social distancing or to allow for quarantining of new or exposed employees.
  • Medical: Providing health services to protect workers against COVID-19 including offering or enabling vaccinations, testing, or healthcare treatment of infected employees, including paid leave.

This is not a competitive grant program; grants will be awarded based on eligibility. Funding is not awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis, and the 45-day application period is anticipated to open in early October.  

To be ready for the application, all applicants should obtain a Data Universal Number System (DUNS) number. This DUNS number will be required to receive this grant. More information on how to obtain a DUNS number, plus full eligibility criteria can be found at the USDA’s website: https://usda-prs.grantsolutions.gov/usda.

You can also ask further questions about this program by emailing usda.ams.prs@grantsolutions.gov or call 301-238-5550. NCAT’s ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program will provide additional support related to accessing this new grant program. Check our website at ATTRA.NCAT.ORG or sign up for our weekly e-newsletter for updates. 

Fremontodendron; a species that explodes with beautiful yellow flowers in the Spring.

NCAT’s Western office has completed the first year of its hedgerow planting project. NCAT secured funding to provide hedgerow plants and technical assistance to farmers across California, taking us from as far south as San Diego to Crescent City in the north. All told, we delivered to 80 farmers who ran the gamut of what California offers in terms of farming systems, scale, and crops grown.

As a resilient bunch of plants, these native species have been planted in the deserts east of Los Angeles, the fog draped regions of the redwood forests, and everywhere in between.

The goal of the project was to provide habitat to native species with a mix of 18 different hedgerow plants. A special addition of Narrow Leaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis) was added to the mix in an effort to grow back a tiny portion of the Monarch butterfly habitat that has been removed in the name of development over recent decades.

Hedgerows can serve many functions. Historically, hedgerows were commonplace in several European countries. They were managed to mark property boundaries and provide a dense

Revegetating a burn scar caused by last year’s fires.

barrier to reduce unwanted traffic from predators and pen-in livestock. Some turned the practice of managing hedges into a specialized skill, even an artform. Many miles of these hedges were eventually replaced due to increasing labor costs and the popularity of labor-saving tools like wire fencing. Like many innovations, the replacement of hedgerows by a more “efficient” technology came with its costs. Erosion, wind, dust, and pest pressure increased, while biodiversity decreased greatly.

Of course, every farmer has their own reason for wanting to plant a hedgerow. As we came to learn, these reasons included privacy, protection against wind, noise reduction, habitat for animals and beneficial insects, soil stabilization, supplemental food production, and beauty.

All told, if we had been able to plant in a single row, this hedgerow project would span 26 miles. And we hope to make it longer. If you are a farmer and are interested in planting a hedgerow, please contact NCAT’s Western office at 530-792-7338. We are planning to secure funding for another project like this one and hope you might be a part of it.

This blog post is produced by the National Center for Appropriate Technology through the ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture program, under a cooperative agreement with USDA Rural Development. This blog post was also made possible in-part by funding from ATTRA, CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant (Conservation stewardship training and demonstration for specialty crop growers; investing in your farm #18-0001-034-sc), Regenerative Ag. Foundation, and Environmental Defense Fund.  

By Jeff Schahczenski, NCAT Agricultural and Natural Resource Economist

If you had to allocate $3.3 billion of taxpayer dollars to farmers and ranchers who voluntarily wish to change how they farm and ranch so as to “deliver conservation solutions” to protect natural resources and feed a growing world, how would you do it?

This year, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will allocate this sum to applicants of two working-lands conservation programs, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) largely by the means of a new tool called the Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART). On September 17 and 24, and October 8, NRCS and NCAT will present a webinar series that will help farmers and ranchers more fully understand how the CART will assess and rank their applications to these programs.

In the past, farmers and ranchers have accessed these programs to achieve significant improvements in the protection of natural resources and the environment. For example, Montana organic grain farmers Doug and Anna Jones-Crabtree, who began farming 11 years ago, have for 10 years fully utilized CSP and EQIP to great advantage. This year, they have again applied for the CSP and are anxious to hear this fall how they will be ranked by CART. As Anna relates, “through the CSP, we undertook practices such as improved nutrient management, pest management, flex-cropping, cover crop, field borders, and seeding pollinator species.”

But despite the efforts of farmers like Doug and Anna, there are many questions and inherent complications as to how one could and should compare the relative conservation efforts of farmers and ranchers nationwide. Some broad but important questions that need answering, and which will be explored in this webinar series, include the following:

  • Who decides what conservation efforts are of a higher priority than others?

All of us probably have our own ideas about how best to conserve natural resources, limit negative environmental consequences of farming and ranching, and promote the important environmental services that agriculture provides. For example, improving soil health has been a topic of great interest nationwide. Can a tool like CART assure or improve soil health? The simple answer is yes, if embedded within the CART efforts to improve soil health are prioritized.

The more complex answer is that not all farmers and ranchers in every U.S. county view soil health as the primary objective for conservation at the moment. Indeed, the NRCS tries to allow for farmers and ranchers, at local and state levels, to have some input into what they view as most important. However, since we also live within a federal system of government, Congress and the President (through the USDA) have a say, as well. Thus, not surprisingly, a given farmer or rancher in a given state will not be ranked and assessed by exactly the same criteria, nor will their personal priority for conservation solutions assure them of support.

  • Can the best science direct the best conservation solutions?

To continue with our example of soil health, how do we know how best to improve soil health? Does the CART support the best science-based means to assess soil health? Again, the simple answer is that one hopes so, but what is known or not known about how to improve soil health is still very much an open question. In the last session of the CART webinar series, we will explore this very complex issue.

  • What are the best conservation solutions to best serve the public good?

There are some farmers, ranchers, and agricultural and conservation organizations who have had philosophical issues with the very intent of working-lands conservation programs. For example, the CSP concept of rewarding farmers and ranchers for their ongoing conservation efforts is fundamentally different from all other federal conservation programs. Some have argued that if farmers and ranchers are already providing these benefits without public support, then why use scarce public resources to continue these efforts? Others have argued that good stewardship by farmers and ranchers provides a public good or investment. It is argued that we all benefit from these stewardship efforts, and that public incentives are required for continued good stewardship of the land and—more importantly—to encourage those who do not provide these public benefits to consider them. These issues—like many others in our democratic system—strike at the broader issue of the proper role of government engagement in protecting both the environment and the future productive capacity of our natural resources.

Call or contact your local Farm Service Agency today!

No, the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is not food for the nation’s hungry, but rather assistance for the nation’s food producers. Details of how U.S. farmers can apply for this assistance are still scarce, but the most important message is to begin the process ASAP if you are a farmer who has experienced a loss due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Here is a way to contact your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office which will be implementing this program:

Find your Farm Service Agency office

You must make a phone call to your local FSA office to start the process.

Direct support for farmers and ranchers available via CFAP will include:

  • Direct support based on actual losses because of price and disrupted supply chains.
  • Assist with adjustment and added marketing costs resulting from lost demand and short-term oversupply in the 2020 marketing year.

CFAP is available to farmers regardless of size and market outlet, if they suffered an eligible loss. Disruption to markets and demand may be significant and the USDA is already warning that these payments may only cover a portion of the impacts on farmers and ranchers.

PARTICULARLY IF YOU HAVE NOT USED FSA PROGRAMS IN THE PAST, GET READY BY COLLECTING:

  1. Tax Identification Number: TAX ID
  2. Farming Operating Structure: TYPES
  3. Adjusted Gross Income

BE PREPARED TO FILL OUT POSSIBLY THE FOLLOWING SIX (6) FORMS.
DO NOT SEND FORMS WITHOUT FIRST CONTACTING YOUR LOCAL FSA OFFICE

  • CCC-901 (Español) If applicable, this certification reports income from farming, ranching, and forestry, for those exceeding the adjusted gross income limitation ($900,000)
  • CCC-941 (Español) Reports your average adjusted gross income for programs where income restrictions apply.
  • CCC-942 If applicable, this certification reports income from farming, ranching, and forestry, for those exceeding the adjusted gross income limitation ($900,000)
  • AD1026 (Español) Ensures compliance with highly erodible land conservation and wetland conservation
  • AD2047 Provides basic customer contact information
  • SF3881 Collects your banking information to allow USDA to make payments to you via direct deposit

As with all emergency assistance, there will be those that are more prepared then others and getting in line as early as possible is to your advantage.

Contact ATTRA for Help

If you need help contact us here at ATTRA as we are always ready to help.

  1. Call our toll-free ATTRA helpline (U.S. only)
    800-346-9140 (English) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m Central Time
    800-411-3222 (Español) 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time
  2. Ask online, using the green chat box at the bottom of the ATTRA webpage.
  3. Via email to askanag@ncat.org