News

 December 17, 2019

State Investment in Farms Needs Boost

 

Farmers and fishermen rely on state and federal grant programs to help them adapt to climate change and other pressures, and to take advantage of new opportunities and concepts to remain viable. The Collaborative has investigated the spending of many of the grant programs administered by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to help determine if resources are adequately targeting where need is greatest.

What we found was that almost every program is significantly oversubscribed, with far more applicants than funded projects.

  • Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program (AEEP) received total requests of $5,548,337 and awarded $2,500,000. There were an average of 41 applicants per year and an average of 21 received funding. (Data reflects fiscal years 2014-2020.)
  • The Agricultural Food Safety Improvement Program (AFSIP) received requests of $3,634,428 and awarded $1,570,000. There were an average of 43 applicants per year and an average of  23 received funding. (2014-20)
  • The Agricultural Energy Program (ENER) had requests of $5,626,710, and awarded $3,305,509. There were an average of 37 applicants per year and an average of  24 received funding. (2014-20)
  • Urban Agriculture Program had $2,500,000 available and awarded approximately $2,494,000. (2014-20)
  • APR Improvement Program (AIP) had $4,675,000 in requests and awarded $2,350,000. There were an average of 13 applicants per year and an average of  6 received funding. (2015-19)
  • Farm Viability Enhancement Program (FVEP) did not record request dollars. There were 126 applicants of which 44 were funded for $2,550,000. There were an average of 25 applicants per year and an average of 8 received funding. (2015-19)
  • Matching Enterprise Grants for Agriculture (MEGA) had requests of $874,552 and awarded $409,340. There were an average of 19 applicants per year and an average of  9 received funding. (2015-19)
  • Stewardship Assistance & Restoration on APRs (SARA) had 53 applicants, 27 of which were eligible, and 17 were awarded a total of $319,000. (2016-18)
  • The Agricultural Energy Program Special Projects (ENER-SP) had requests of $2,001,951 and awarded $878,211. There were an average of 15 applicants per year and an average of 9 received funding. (2017-19)
  • Agricultural Climate Resiliency & Efficiencies (ACRE) had requests of $3,742,045 and awards of $2,000,000, There were an average of 16 applicants per year and an average of 9 received funding. (2018-20)

Data was not generated for the  Agricultural Composting & Composting Improvement Programs, and further analysis is needed for capital programs, such as the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program. We are seeking information about other agencies’ programs that relate to our food system and producers rely on. 

While these numbers reveal greater demand for support than was available, there are certainly many unknown variables as well. Some applications may have been ineligible for a range of reasons, and some may have applied for less than the full amount actually needed to complete an effective project because of the constraints of the program. At the same time, many farms may not even be aware of the availability of these programs or may be mistakenly under the impression that they are not eligible, and so there is likely greater need than the number of applications suggests.

The Census of Agriculture identifies more than 7,200 farms in Massachusetts, though many of these are very small and may not be eligible for some of the grant programs. Agricultural service providers, state and federal program officers, and university extension agents and staff estimate at least 1/3 of the 7,200 meaningfully impact the state’s food supply (of course, every farm has an impact on the local food supply and has the potential to contribute positively to farmland and natural resource protection). By another measure, the census reports that 1,690 Massachusetts farms generate more than $25,000 in sales each year.

But these grant programs are only reaching approximately 130 farms each year. These programs receive funding from annual operating budgets as well as capital budget allocations authorized by environmental bonding legislation, and it is clearly not enough to meet demand. The numbers show that the programs supporting farmers in meeting the challenges of climate change and adherence to food safety regulations would still fall short of meeting the need even if these investments were doubled.

Massachusetts farmers face some of the highest costs for land, energy, and other inputs in the nation, and the pressures of climate change, new regulations, the Food Safety Modernization Act, and other external variables necessitates targeted state supports to keep these farms sustainable. Based on demonstrated interest, many of the programs that exist are clearly addressing the most pressing issues. But significantly more investment in these programs is needed if the goal is to give all farms in the Commonwealth the resources they need in order to thrive. Further analysis will help the Collaborative develop budgetary requests that will help to rightsize these supports.

⟨ Newer:
Climate Change Legislation would Impact Agriculture, Without Adequate Input from Farmers

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Materials from the 2019 MA Food System Forum