USDA is making more than $17 million in grants available under the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

While visiting farmers in Lathrop, Mo., this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also described recent initiatives, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, designed to help producers and keep farmers on the land.

“This program underscores President Obama’s commitment to support the nation’s beginning farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack said. “Through the beginning farmer and rancher grant program, we can help ensure that we are doing all we can for the next generation of America’s farmers and ranchers.”

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is an education, training, technical assistance and outreach program designed to help U.S. farmers and ranchers — specifically those who have been farming or ranching for 10 years or less.

Congress authorized the fiscal 2009 funding for this program in the 2008 farm bill, with another $19 million in mandatory funding for fiscal 2010.

Under the program, USDA will make grants available to state, local, tribal, regional, non-profits, community based organizations, academic institutions, and networks of appropriate private and public organizations to design programs to help beginning farmers and ranchers.

The projects will be limited to three years.

Budget requests in the proposals, which are due May 13, 2009, must not exceed $250,000 per year. USDA is looking for proposals from these areas:

• Mentoring, apprenticeships, and internships.

• Resources and referrals.

• Assisting beginning farmers or ranchers in acquiring land from retiring farmers and ranchers.

• Innovative farm and ranch transfer strategies.

• Entrepreneurship and business training.

• Model land leasing contracts.

• Financial management training.

• Whole farm planning.

• Conservation assistance.

• Risk management education.

• Diversification and marketing strategies.

• Curriculum development.

• Understanding the impact of concentration and globalization.

• Basic livestock and crop farming practices.

• The acquisition and management of agricultural credit.

• Environmental compliance.

• Information processing.

• Other similar areas that would be useful to beginners.

More information about the program is at: http://www.csrees.usda.gov/fo/beginningfarmerandrancher.cfm.

Vilsack also discussed recent USDA initiatives to help producers and to reinvest in rural communities. In March, Vilsack announced the:

• Transfer of 200 million pounds of nonfat dry milk from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service for use in domestic feeding programs.

• Beginning of payments for producers participating in USDA’s Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program.

• Purchase $60 million of turkey, $25 million of pork, $2 million of lamb and $29.7 million of walnuts. and the

• Reversal of the previous administration’s proposal to eliminate base acres on federal land.

In addition, Vilsack also discussed how the ARRA will revitalize rural communities. Under the stimulus bill, $2.5 billion will be invested in broadband for rural, underserved communities and to date, nearly $180 million has been disbursed to farmers for direct operating loans.