While many agricultural assistance programs are aimed at farmers and farms, it is important to remember that ranchers and ranches are generally included as potential beneficiaries of these programs as well.
Many of these programs come from the federal government, specifically from the U.S.D.A. (Department of Agriculture). The USDA’s Farm Service Agency offers many direct and guaranteed private-lender loans for various purposes.
Direct Operating (OL) Loans are available for use to fund the daily operating expenses of a ranch including worker salaries, livestock feed, and the purchase and maintenance of equipment. The maximum loan is $300,000, and no down payment is needed.
Farm Ownership (FO) Loans are available for the purchase of land, and can also be used for the construction, maintenance and improvement of buildings, fencing, and other land-maintenance purposes. The maximum loan is $300,000, and no down payment is needed.
Microloans are smaller loans that come with a reduced-paperwork application process. The approval process is also expedited, making it easier to get you hands on small amounts of money if that’s all you need.
Emergency Loans are available when a region has been declared a disaster due to events such as fire or drought. This money can help with replacing actual physical loss such as buildings or livestock as well as funding living expenses and making up for loss of income or production due to the disaster.
The Farm Service Agency (FSA) also provides guarantees to private lenders, enabling them to approve applicants who might not qualify for loans under more stringent criteria. This is especially helpful for ranchers who are considered “low resource,” meaning they have little ranching revenue and the household income falls within certain guidelines.
The Farmer-Rancher Grant Program is offered by the North Central Region division of the Sustainable Agricultural Research & Education (NCR SARE) organization. This program offers funds to ranchers who are working to ensure sustainability in their agricultural efforts. Past grants have funded efforts in pest management, soil and water conservation, and renewable energy production.
In Montana, the state offers a Beginning Rancher program funded by tax-exempt bonds that are issued to investors. Investors arrange a loan with a rancher, who generally uses the money to purchase land and start up the ranching project. The lender is then able to work with the Montana Department of Agriculture to swap that loan for a federally tax-exempt bond, with the loan and the land as collateral. This process reduces the risk for the lender as well as permitting the lender to offer lower interest rates to the ranchers.
The Montana Department of Agriculture also offers Junior Agricultural Loans to young people who are members of a group such as FFA (Future Farmers of America) or 4-H. Certain unaffiliated young people may also obtain loans with sufficient parental support. The government recognizes the need to entice young people to continue the tradition of farming and ranching in the state, in order to preserve its agricultural future. It is worth checking to see if your state offers programs similar to this or to the loan program discussed above.
The Organic Farming Research Foundation funds ranchers who want to bring more natural, ecologically-friendly processes to their production. Projects can include finding solutions to the financial issues that plague small organic ranchers as well as exploring new types of feed or grazing conditions.
The USDA Small Business Innovation Research Program is for producers of agriculturally important animals, helping them to provide a safe and inexpensive supply of animal protein to the American consumer. Funds can be used to conserve resources and to reduce their production expenses.
Ultimately most of the federal, state, non-profit and other funding resources that are available for crop farmers are available for ranchers as well. Although the two groups have different problems, they also face many of the same issues and more money can be part of the solution.