USDA grant expands Louisiana Central’s Beginning Farmer/Rancher Program

The USDA awarded a $491,212 multi-year grant to Louisiana Central that will create more opportunities for farmers and ranchers and increase the availability of locally sourced food.

Louisiana Central will use the grant funds to expand its Farmer Training Program, a 12-month business development program that provides in-depth assistance for farm- and ranch-based business startups and expansions. The program offers group workshops, online programs, one-on-one technical assistance, business coaching, access to business loans, and other crucial services that support local production of specialty crops and grass-based livestock.

The three-year USDA grant allows Louisiana Central to expand its work to develop more farmers and ranchers and provide them with the tools they need to scale up their agricultural enterprises.

This is the first time Louisiana Central has been awarded this competitive grant. Louisiana Central was one of 140 organizations selected nationwide. “It’s a great honor to be a recipient of these funds from the USDA,” said Bahia Nightengale, Louisiana Central’s Executive Director for Farm and Food. “Stable funding allows us to develop new tools for the program.”

Louisiana Central President Jim Clinton said, “Supporting farmers and ranchers who are moving into higher value-added production can boost the region’s economy. This award allows us to help more farmers and ranchers become successful entrepreneurs.”

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant program is designed to strengthen and grow the pipeline of the next generation of farmers and ranchers, which is vital to the continued success of American agriculture, said NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille. “We recognize that beginning farmers and ranchers have unique needs for education, training, and technical assistance. Their success, especially in the first 10 years, often hinges on access to reliable, science-based information and the latest educational resources so they can improve their operations’ profitability and sustainability long-term.”

Louisiana Central plans to develop a Growing Guide Toolkit for entry-level farmers that specifically addresses the distinct cultural and climate realities unique to this region. The toolkit will include a weekly crop planning guide that is linked to income expectations for Louisiana’s

subtropical climate and rural markets, and it will provide resources specific to the region and tailored for entrepreneurs to quickly establish revenue-generating crops.

In addition, Louisiana Central plans to increase participation in the Farmer Training Program and to refer qualified program graduates to BAS, the Business Acceleration System, for advanced business coaching. BAS, funded by The Rapides Foundation and administered by Louisiana Central, helps small businesses achieve their growth and profitability potential.

Applications will soon be accepted for the next Farmer Training Program class, which will begin its work in 2022. The program is seeking new and beginning farmers with up to 10 years experience growing and selling fruits, vegetables, niche crops, and grass-based livestock. Farmers looking to develop wholesale production and sales are strongly encouraged to apply. Materials and workshops will be provided at no cost to participants.

Application information will be posted on Louisiana Central’s Facebook page and at louisiana-central.com

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