article is the last in a four-part series for Passages discussing how the agricultural community
can better understand and address a changing climate. PASA, in partnership with
Penn State, was awarded a U.S. EPA Environmental Justice grant (#96335501) for
educational programs related to climate change and agriculture. This grant
supports this Passages series, several field days and webinars, and
pre-conference tracks at the recent 25th Farming for the Future
conference. Join us as we explore Farming in a Changing Climate.
This last article in the series
highlights the fiscal sustainability of farms by providing an overview of crop
insurance, conservation and risk management programs available through the USDA.
The Farm Bill is renewed every five years in order to
reflect the changing needs of the agricultural community. This cycle includes
specialty funding for small, new, low resourced, organic, minority and urban
farms1. USDA is comprised of many agencies, which are interested in
reaching these non-traditional types of agricultural operations in addition to
traditional large-scale agriculture and commodity operations. The goal of this
article is provide an overview the agencies and allocations available to
farming operations of all sizes and styles.
weather has always been a part of the delicate dance of farming and the
seasons. It is true that working with nature via sustainable farming practices such
as soil building, contouring and cover crops can help increase the resiliency
of a farm in the face of a changing climate. However, farm income can be lost
by unforeseen natural disasters such as severe storms; prolonged weather events
like drought can reduce yields by destroying crops, land and infrastructure. Farms
are a business and crops are the inventory and that value must be protected in
order to allow for fiscal survival when natural events occur. This is the premise
for crop insurance, which is just one program available to support fiscal
Climate related weather events
are costly, and on the rise, so much so that the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) created a searchable online database known as
‘The Billion Dollar Club’2. This resource tracks weather and climate
related events such as super storms, winter storms, floods, and wildfires that
cause US$1 Billion or more in damage, of which there were ten in 2015 alone,
and three of those occurred in Pennsylvania. These ten events caused 155 deaths
and economic devastation in many sectors. Climate change scientists at Columbia
University’s Earth Institute and Tufts University are currently analyzing data
to understand what agriculture looks like in Pennsylvania under various climate
change models, in order to understand what opportunities and interventions
farmers may consider as part of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research
Initiative (AFRI) funded Enhancing Food
Security in the Northeast (EFSNE) grant3.
A recent example of crop damage
attributable to weather fluctuations which will likely hit home for many
readers is the damage fruit trees suffered in April 2016. A warm March was followed
by hard frost and freeze in some areas of the state. NOAA classified the
2015-2016 winter as the warmest on record in the lower 48 states with the
average temperature across the US 4.6°F higher than the average temperature
recorded in the last 100 years4. It is too early to tell the extent
of the yield and related economic impacts will be from this weather event.
According to early estimates of yield impact from the Penn State Fruit Research
and Extension Center in Biglerville, Adams County, fruit growers are expecting 85-90 percent of a full crop of apples, 75-80 percent
of a full crop of peaches and 50 percent of a full crop of tart cherries5.
Damage was most significant to apricots, plums and pears due to early dormancy
breaks, with peaches and apples fairing slightly better6.
According to the 2012 PA Ag
Census, agriculture in PA is valued at US$7.4 Billion annually, and $160
Million of that comes from tree products including fruit and nuts7. The
economic and social impact of all agricultural efforts shapes the fabric of our
communities and the landscape that Pennsylvanians call home. This is recognized
by the federal government via allocations programs designed to protect the
industry, primarily through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Farms and businesses wanting to apply for federal grants and contracts simply
need to obtain System for Award Management (SAM) and Duns & Bradstreet
(DUNS) numbers, which are free via a short form and take a couple of weeks to
process. Let’s examine some of those programs.
of USDA Agencies and Selected Programs
The United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA) is the federal executive body responsible for developing and
implementing policy and funding programs related to forestry, agriculture, food
and farming. The following departments are under their purview; note this is
not an exhaustive list:
Resources Conservation Service(NRCS)
The Natural Resources
Conservation Service provides technical and financial assistance to farmers by
working with them on the ground on projects that focus on conservation and the
use of technology to improve farm systems. NRCS’s
mission is “helping people help the land.” Staff is available to visit farms, get
to know the farm and provide consulting on operations as well as suggest
appropriate programs. NRCS receives its budget through an allocation system
from the federal government to each state. In Pennsylvania, NRCS has regional
offices which cover every county, and staff welcomes new relationships with
farms and a variety of other land holders.
NRCS programs often operate on
an ‘in kind’ basis, meaning that the farmer matches the award amount with
equipment, labor and other non-monetary contributions to the project. The farm
then receives payments according to an NRCS schedule at agreed upon project
milestones. There are many programs available, and when a match is not found
with NRCS, there are often resources available through the Farm Service Agency
(FSA), and farmers and landholders are encouraged to think of these sister
agencies when developing the support network for their business and to be
proactive about relationship building. Some NCRS programs of note include:
Management Assistance (AMA)
goal of this program is to reduce risk in production by voluntarily
addressing water management, water quality and erosion control by incorporating
conservation into farming operations. Farms can have sales of over $1,000, and
an implementation cost of 75 percent up to $50,000.
Stewardship Program (CSP)
This program assists land owners
to maintain existing conservation efforts and adopt new conservation efforts
including: water, energy, soil, air and habitat. Payments are performance based;
contracts are five years with a $200k cap.
Innovation Grants (CIG)
As the name implies, CIG support
development and adoption of innovative approaches and technology to improve conservation
of agricultural land. This grant is
flexible in that any project proposal that ties back to that goal of improving
conservation may be considered. EQIP is a funding vehicle under the CIG
umbrella. Funding levels up to $75k per project with a 50/50 match, therefore a total
project of $150k can be accepted.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program
EQIP is commonly known as the
high tunnel grant’ because it commonly supports high tunnel projects. The
mission of this grant is more expansive that that—its goal is for farms to
adopt technology practices and planning to increase growing efficiency through
improving wate and air quality, reducing erosion and sedimentation,and improving created habitat. This grant has
ten year contracts, and special incentives for beginning, socially
disadvantaged and limited resource farmers. For these categories of growers, up
to 50 percent advance on project materials/services is possible to get the
project off of the ground.
Service Agency (FSA)
Often, if a match is not found
with NRCS, the Farm Service Agency is the next stop. FSA programs are designed
to help small farmers to access funds through its microloan and other programs.
The role of USDA Rural
Development is to improve the economy and quality of life in rural communities
through economic development, loans, grants and technical assistance for
community empowerment projects. The Value Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG),
available annually and usually announced in spring, is a funding option for
those looking to add value to farm products, expand marketing, processing and
creating new market opportunities for value-added products are goals.
Beginning, small and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers may receive
Planning grants are up to
$75,000 and working capital grants are up to $250,000. The deadlines are July 1, 2016 for paper applications; June 24, 2016 for electronic applications
The Risk Management Agency
administrates and operates many programs, including all crop insurance programs
through the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC). Crop insurance plans are
sold through private insurance agencies in the private sector. The mission of
RMA is to strengthen the economic stability of agricultural producers and rural
communities through risk management tools.
There are newer crop insurance programs for small, organic, diversified
and non-traditional ag production including aquaculture and mushrooms.
Insurance for these types of growers have benefits such as: exemption from
administrative fees, reduced out-of-pocket premium expenses, additional subsidy,
increase in the substitute yield adjustment, and production history from
farming operation they have been involved in previously. An overview of several
program in these categories follows:
This program provides coverage
for certified organic acreage as well as transitional acreage, including any
crop grown using organic farming practices.
This is a comprehensive
insurance program providing a safety net for the entire farm, and was first
available in 2015. The program is crop neutral; anything is covered and is available
in every county in the U.S. The policy covers levels up to 85 percent of
revenue and can be combined with single crop policies.
Disaster Assistance Program (NAP)
Crops considered uninsurable
under other programs are covered under NAP when low yields, loss of inventory,
or prevented planting occur due to natural disasters, excessive heat, insect
infestation and plant disease.
Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) for Underserved Farmers
socially disadvantaged and limited resource farms, and those farms that are organic
and sell at direct market prices are able to receive higher coverage levels than
under the regular NAP program. The goal is to level the playing field for
organic and direct market farmers who have been farming less than 10 years.
Additionally the $250 service fee is waived, and policy holders enjoy a 50
percent premium reduction.
business of farming can be just as challenging as difficult weather conditions
or pest problems. It can be worthwhile to occasionally think of the farm in
business terms. Those crops, animals and farm products are the revenue
generator necessary to allow a farm to continue from one season to the next.
Build relationships with staff of the mentioned USDA offices and Extension to
create a network of professionals dedicated to protecting and preserving your