Emerging Minn. farmers encouraged to apply for farmland down payment assistance

19 July 2023

Minnesota’s emerging farmers looking to purchase a piece of farmland should take a few minutes to fill out an application for the Minnesota Down Payment Assistance Grant, which offers up to $15,000 for qualified farmers to purchase their first farm.

The grant program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Rural Finance Authority as part of its mission to develop the state’s agricultural resources.

“With the average age of farmers increasing in the state, farm succession and legacy planning is important to the sector,” reads the MDA’s overview of the grant program. “At the same time, land access is one of the most noted barriers for emerging farmers to succeed.”

Jenny Heck, the agency’s contact person for the new program, calls it the “first of its kind in the country.”

“We have it funded for three rounds right now, and the first round was January to June of this year,” she said.

In the first round of the program, the MDA received more applications in the first 10 minutes than it had funding for. Heck said that resulted in the agency only taking applications for a couple days.

“We ultimately received 105 applications in that first round,” she said, with 32 awards ultimately being given out. “We saw applications from all over the state, including quite a few in the metro, which was interesting to see.”

The program attracted farmers of conventional crops, livestock, fruit and vegetables, down to a handful of hemp, flower and bee farmers.

Second round

The second round accepting applications until July 31 will have double the funding ($1 million) that will go toward 66 grants.

“This process is going to look a little different,” Heck said. “Instead of awarding the grants first come, first served, we’re going to be doing a lottery process.”

Heck said the lottery will take place in early August.

“Another big change is that farmers now have six months to close,” she said. “So after you receive your award in early to mid-August, you’ll have six months, so early to mid-February to purchase your farm.”

The application for the program is one page, Heck said.

“You could even argue it’s half a page, because Section B is optional,” she said. “So we really encourage folks to get those applications out this month.”

More funding opportunities

Farmland Down Payment Assistance Program 

Application period: July 1-31

Agency contact: Jenny Heck, 651-201-6316, [email protected] 

Webpage: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/business-dev-loans-grants/down-payment-assistance-grant 

Description: This grant program offers up to $15,000 to qualified farmers purchasing their first farm. Funds may be used for the purchase of farmland or other agricultural real estate within the state of Minnesota. To qualify, you must close on the purchase after your application is approved and within six months or by June 30, 2024, whichever is sooner. The RFA will award these grants using a random lottery process, with preference given to emerging farmers. If you are not an emerging farmer, you may still apply.

Emerging Farmer Technical Assistance Grant 

Application period: To be determined

Agency contact: Jenny Heck, 651-201-6316, [email protected] 

Webpage: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/business-dev-loans-grants/emerging-farmer-technical-assistance-grant

Description: Organizations can apply to the Emerging Farmer Technical Assistance Grant to provide technical and culturally appropriate services to Minnesota emerging farmers. The most recent application period closed on June 26, 2023, but more funds were appropriated in the 2023 Minnesota legislative session.

AGRI Meat, Poultry, Egg, & Dairy Processing Grant 

Application period: To be determined

Agency contact: Courtney VanderMey, 651-201-6335, [email protected] 

Webpage: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/grants/agri-mpem-processing 

Description: This program offers designated grants to facilitate the start-up, modernization, or expansion of meat, poultry, egg, and milk processing businesses. The intent of the program is to increase sales of Minnesota-raised livestock products by investing in equipment and physical improvements that support processing, capacity, market diversification, and market access. Individuals, farmers, businesses, agricultural cooperatives, non-profits, educational institutions, local governments, and tribal governments are eligible to apply. The MDA will prioritize projects that create additional meat/poultry slaughter capacity in addition to projects that increase access to Kosher/Halal markets.

Meat Processing Training & Retention Incentive Grants 

Application period: To be determined

Agency contact: Courtney VanderMey, 651-201-6335, [email protected] 

Webpage: To be developed

Description: This program, established in the 2023 Minnesota legislative session, will offer grants to “partner organizations” to assist small- to medium-sized meat and poultry processors (150 full-time equivalents or fewer) with hiring and training new employees. New employees at eligible meat and poultry processing plants may receive up to $10,000 in the form of tuition reimbursement for programs at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, sign-on bonuses, relocation assistance, retention incentives, child care stipends, and other related expenses. Up to 20% of a grant to a partner organization may be used for direct services to employees, including but not limited to translation services. Priority will be given to applicants who are working in partnership with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Farm to School Grant Program 

Application period: Applications for fiscal year 2024 are expected to open in August 2023

Agency contact: Kate Seybold, 651-201-6165 , [email protected] 

Webpage: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/farm-school-grants 

Description: This program reimburses schools and early childcare education centers for purchases for Minnesota grown and raised food used in meal programs. There are two grant options for applicants: 1. “First Bite Mini-Grants” for those with little or no experience with local procurement, and 2. “Full Tray Grants” for applicants with some experience with local procurement. Applicants may also apply for equipment grants to make it more possible to serve locally sourced products. There is $1 million per year available for this grant program. Schools and early childcare education centers apply for these grants, but farmers and community members are encouraged to reach out to their school district or and child care education centers to encourage them to apply.

Soil Health Financial Assistance Program 

Application period: July 31-Sept. 15 

Agency Contact: Jesssica Jurcek, 651-802-3059, [email protected] 

Webpage: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/soil-health-grant 

Description: The Soil Health Financial Assistance Grant started as a pilot grant program and won permanent funding in the 2023 Minnesota legislative session. Funding may be used for projects that increase soil carbon, integrate perennial vegetation, reduce nitrous oxide and methane emissions, or enable the purchase of or retrofitting of soil health equipment (i.e. a no-till drill). Owners and lessees of farmland in Minnesota can apply. Local government units, including cities; towns; counties; soil and water conservation districts; Minnesota Tribal governments; and joint powers boards, are also eligible for a grant. A local government unit that receives a grant for equipment or technology must make those purchases available for use by the public.


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