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Small Farm Outreach Program at VSU receives $600K grant to assist farmers, ranchers

Small Farm Outreach Program
Small Farm Outreach Program sign at Randolph Farm. Photo courtesy Virginia State University.

Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program was included in the projects funded by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant program.

The VSU program will receive nearly $600,000 to help socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers and ranchers in the Commonwealth.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently announced more than $53 million in grant funding across three unique agricultural programs to help U.S. farmers, ranchers and military veterans.

This is the second time SFOP has been awarded the grant from USDA-NIFA to help small farmers. It received the grant in 2016 and reapplied in 2019 when funding expired.

VSU is one of only four of the nation’s 19 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) established as 1890 land-grant universities to receive the funding, and one of only two HBCUs awarded the maximum funding amount.

“We’re grateful for the renewed commitment from USDA-NIFA to support small disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and veterans,” said SFOP director William Crutchfield. “We will use these funds to continue our training and outreach efforts to help new and beginning famers build successful and sustainable businesses.”

This grant is especially critical in helping to encourage new farmers and ranchers and addressing the decline in Virginia farmers as older farmers leave or retire from agriculture, Crutchfield added.

SFOP, which is part of the Virginia Cooperative Extension at VSU, will use a holistic approach to equip socially disadvantaged and veteran beginning farmers and ranchers in Virginia with the tools and skills needed for them to make informed decisions in owning and operating successful farm businesses.

The approach will include outreach, training and technical assistance to help them with planning, production and marketing.

The project will provide education about USDA opportunities, programs and services; farm estate planning and financial planning and management; production techniques to produce high value, profitable crops and livestock; marketing strategies to attract new and existing markets to sell products; and collaborative partnerships to increase capacity and ensure sustainability of farm operations.

The project will target 70 Virginia counties, where disadvantaged farmers and ranchers have been traditionally underserved because of barriers, such as high start-up costs; limited access to credit; lack of knowledge on land acquisition and transition; lack of skills in financial planning; lack of production skills; and limited access to existing and viable markets.

In a continued partnership with Virginia Tech’s Virginia Beginning Farmer & Rancher Coalition, VSU will address these barriers by using the “Whole Farm Planning” curriculum developed by VBFRC as a tool to train farmers.

Additionally, USDA-NIFA awarded $9.6 million to help support projects through its Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Program (AgVets) and $28.7 million to help address farmer stress through its Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN).

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