December 17, 2019
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.
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.