Grant program to help young Minnesota farmers proves popular

Paul Conklin grows organic vegetables and raises beef cattle.
Crops growing on a farm in Solway, Minn. A new state program aims to help young farmers with down payments on land.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News 2017

Young farmers were waiting when a new grant program recently went on line for the first time.

"Demand has been huge. We had 28 applications come in the first five minutes," said Minnesota Department of Agriculture Program manager Jenny Heck.

The first round of the Down Payment Assistance Grant Program has $500,000 to help young and emerging farmers by matching up to $15,000 of the cost for buying farmland.

Applications quickly exceeded the 30 to 40 farmers who the first round of funding will cover on a first come first served basis. The agency will cap applications at a waiting list of 100.

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A tag to identify crops
Crops grow on a recently-purchased farm in Long Prairie. A new program to help young farmers with down payments on land filled up quickly when it went online for the first time. A second round of applications is expected to open in a few months.
Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News | 2022

Funding of $750,000 is available for a second round of grants in July. Heck expects the agency to make some adjustments to the program given the high demand.

“This is the first time the agency has ever done anything like this program, and it's the first of its kind in the nation that I'm aware of,” said Heck. “So we're going to learn a lot about how the application process will work and learn what will be best for future cycles.”

The Minnesota legislature appropriated funds for the grant program last year, and Heck said the agency will be seeking additional funding to expand the program given its popularity.

“If you find a niche, maybe that's organic, maybe that's specialty crop direct marketing, you can be profitable with a small farm and we're definitely seeing that interest,” said Heck.

To be eligible, farmers must be Minnesota residents, earn less than $250,000 a year in gross sales from their farming operation and plan on doing most of the physical labor on the farm for at least five years.

Heck said applications are coming in from around the state. And while the average Minnesota farmer is approaching 57 years of age, Heck said the average age of applicants for the grant program is nearly 20 years younger.

"So I think that brings a lot of hope to what the future of farming looks like. There are lots of people who are interested in getting into farming, younger people, but they just need a little help getting started."