The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers a variety of grant and loan programs designed to support the nation’s farmers and ranchers, particularly those who are just starting. These programs aim to provide the necessary capital, education, and resources to ensure the success and sustainability of new agricultural enterprises.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP)

One of the key initiatives is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). This program provides grants to organizations that offer education, mentoring, and technical assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers. The BFRDP is crucial in fostering a new generation of agricultural professionals, as a significant portion of current farmers in the U.S. are nearing retirement age.

  • Eligibility Criteria- A “beginning farmer or rancher” is defined as someone who has not operated a farm or ranch or has done so for not more than 10 years.
  • Funding Opportunities- Interested organizations can stay updated about BFRDP funding opportunities by registering for alerts. The BFRDP Request for Applications (RFAs) are typically released annually around February or March.
  • Application Process- Detailed instructions on how to apply for the BFRDP can be found in the program’s Request for Application (RFA). Although application periods for the RFAs may be closed, the documents are still accessible for viewing and planning purposes.
  • Training and Skills Development- The BFRDP funds hands-on training projects that provide technical production and business skills needed to start successful farm operations.

Farm Service Agency’s Loan Programs

The Farm Service Agency (FSA) within the USDA also supports beginning farmers and ranchers through direct and guaranteed loan programs. These loans can be used for various purposes, including purchasing land, covering operating expenses, and more. The FSA’s “Beginning Farmer” direct and guaranteed loan programs are particularly tailored to assist those in their first 10 years of operation.

Here is a brief overview of the key aspects of these programs:

Loan Types and Purposes

  • Operating Loans can be used to purchase livestock, seed, and equipment, as well as cover farm operating costs and family living expenses.
  • Farm Ownership Loans are available for purchasing or expanding a farm or ranch, paying closing costs, constructing, or improving buildings, or conserving soil and water resources.

Microloan Program

The Microloan program is another vital resource offered by the FSA, providing financial assistance during the start-up years. This program is designed to meet the unique financing needs of new farmers and ranchers, helping them to become prosperous and competitive.

  • Microloan Uses- Direct Farm Ownership Microloans can be used for making a down payment on a farm, building or improving farm buildings, and soil and water conservation projects. Direct Farm Operating Microloans cover essential tools, fencing, trellising, hoop houses, bees and bee equipment, livestock, seed, fertilizer, utilities, land rents, family living expenses, and more.
  • Loan Features- No minimum loan amount, with a maximum of $50,000 for either type of Microloan. Simplified application process and minimal paperwork, with additional flexibility in certain eligibility requirements.
  • Repayment Terms- Operating microloans have a repayment term that may vary and will not exceed seven years; annual operating loans are repaid within 12 months or when the agricultural commodities produced are sold. Ownership microloans have a repayment term that may vary and will not exceed 25 years.
  • Interest Rates - Interest rates are based on regular FSA operating loan rates and farm ownership rates at the time of approval or closing, whichever is less. As of May 1, 2024, the interest rates for various FSA loans range from 1.5% for Farm Ownership - Down Payment loans to 5.5% for Farm Ownership – Microloans

Targeted Funding and Eligibility

  • Each fiscal year, a portion of the USDA’s loan funds is set aside specifically for beginning farmer and rancher operations.
  • To qualify as a beginning farmer or rancher, individuals must not have operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years and must meet other eligibility requirements Special emphasis is placed on supporting farmers and ranchers who are military veterans, socially disadvantaged, or part of underserved groups such as women, African Americans, American Indians and Alaskan Natives, Hispanics, and Asians and Pacific Islanders.
  • They must also meet other USDA eligibility requirements, which may include factors like farm income, ownership structure, and the size of the operation. Priority for funding is also given to small and mid-sized family farms or ranches, and farmer or rancher cooperatives.

Educational and Training Support

The USDA invests in educational and training programs for beginning farmers and ranchers, including U.S. veterans transitioning into agricultural careers. These programs cover a wide range of topics, such as managing capital, acquiring land, and learning effective business and farming practices criteria set by the USDA.


The USDA’s grant and loan programs play an essential role in supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers. By providing access to capital and resources, these programs help to ensure that the agricultural sector continues to thrive and evolve, meeting the challenges of the 21st century.