N.C. A&T Receives $1.1M in New USDA Grants to Help Small Farmers, Students

10/27/2021 College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. — The College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has been awarded nearly $1.1 million in new grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help small farmers across North Carolina and recruit students interested in careers in natural resource management.

The college and Cooperative Extension will use the largest of three grants, a three-year, $748,800 award, to launch a new project, the BeCAROLINE Coordination Hub. The BECCH project will let the college expand its technical assistance to socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers and veterans.

“We’re expanding our stakeholder network,” said Gregory Goins, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Design and the principal investigator on all three USDA grants. “This provides CAES with a one-stop shop to help solve small farm challenges without excluding people of color.”

The BECCH (pronounced “beach”) project will increase A&T’s outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers — a group that also includes Black and Native American farmers as well as veterans and new farmers — to improve the likelihood that their agricultural operations will be successful. This aid will be directed to farmers and ranchers who have suffered from historical and systemic discrimination and might not have the resources to keep up with the latest agricultural innovations and federal farming programs.

Leveraging A&T’s traditional strength of assisting small farmers, BECCH will work with community partners in five key areas: entrepreneurship; AgrAbility, a program to aid farmers with disabilities; assistance to landowners seeking to retain their property and pass it on to their heirs; transition services to new farmers, especially veterans seeking to become farmers; and youth involvement, which includes training K-12 students and young farmers to operate drones that can assist with farming and ranching.

BECCH will focus its efforts initially in seven counties in the Piedmont region of North Carolina: Alamance, Caswell, Guilford (where A&T is located), Montgomery, Orange, Person and Rockingham. The program will expand to poverty-persistent rural counties to the south and east that have large numbers of socially disadvantaged agricultural operators as well as military veterans who are involved in agriculture.

A one-year grant of $99,984 will help the small farms center build a new website to promote the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, which loans money to agricultural producers. This new web portal will connect socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers to FSA programs and information.

Both projects will be coordinated through the recently established Small Farms Resource and Innovation Center, which will be based at College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and serve as a clearinghouse for numerous resources to help socially disadvantaged farmers in underserved communities. The center will have two co-directors: Goins, and Mark Blevins, the assistant administrator for agriculture and natural resources with Cooperative Extension 

The third USDA grant, a one-year award of $250,000, will help A&T recruit students to its undergraduate biological engineering degree program and prepare them for potential careers in agriculture and natural resource management.

This award will go toward scholarships, paid summer internships, conference travel and other efforts that could help A&T students fill jobs with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Media Contact Information: jmhowse@ncat.edu

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