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Home > Grants, Loans & Financing > Grant Opportunities > AGRI Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program > Sustainable Agriculture Grant FAQ

Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: I am working on starting a cricket farming operation in the Twin Cities, raising them for human consumption. With such a multitude of opportunities for cricket farming to improve sustainability, it seems like it would be a really great candidate for this grant. The only thing for my situation is that it looks like business startup costs are ineligible, and since I don't yet have a farm started, I am looking for startup money. Can you confirm if I would or would not be eligible to apply for this grant?
    A: Reviewers would have to be convinced that this was testing feasibility of a new enterprise as opposed to farm or farm business startup money. Also, this person does not currently meet the program’s definition of a farmer.
  • Q: Is my idea eligible? I am trying to develop a very sustainable low input system for growing apples. I am considering planting a small apple orchard in the Woman Lake area, about an hour north of Brainerd. Mainly, I want to try to determine the viability of a low/no pruning and low/no spray small scale organic orchard.
    A: Reviewers would be looking to see that you had done some preliminary research that led you to believe that these could be sound horticultural techniques.
  • Q: I have a project idea, but am not currently a farmer in Minnesota. However, I work on an orchard located in Minnesota, and own a small hop farm in Iowa with a business partner. Would I apply as a farmer or something else?
    A: Recipients must be Minnesota residents or organizations located in Minnesota.
  • Q: I am planning on grafting the trees myself this winter and growing them out for one year at the farm I currently work at and then transplant them to my site in Northern Minnesota. Could I use this grant to purchase my rootstock and rent nursery space at the farm I work at or will it most likely take much longer to be approved and for the money to be allocated? 
    A: If this project were funded, it would be for a sample number of trees and not a whole orchard. This is a demonstration grant.
  • Q: I have an eligibility question for the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration grant. A farmer is defined as “A farmer is someone who cultivates, operates, or manages a farm for profit, and who grows or raises at least $1,000 of agricultural products for sale annually.” However, I work with a community garden in Fergus Falls that donates all produce to local food shelves. Does this make us ineligible for this grant? If it does, are there similar opportunities for community gardens?
    A: The community garden is not producing food with the intent to sell so it does not meet our definition of a farmer as written.
    One suggestion would be to Google “community garden grants”.
  • Q: I am working with an individual raising goats for meat as well as for the purpose of grazing terrestrial invasive plants. We have some areas that we would like to demonstrate various grazing scenarios, but have a couple of questions.
    First is a question regarding the definition of farmer as “having grown or raised at least $1,000 of ag products.” The key farmer I am working with now has raised $1,000 of product - in that he has grown his herd to about 80 goats, he can put a weight and dollar value on what was raised to substantiate this. But, since he is working to increase his herd size, he may not have marketed that amount as meat product. As his herd grows to the size he desires he will market meat products, but for now his primary income is from payments for grazing to control invasive plants. I’d like to be sure what is considered “farmer”. No problem with the “growing or raising” definition, but we don’t want to mislead anyone if it requires marketing/sales.
    A. Based on the information provided, he would qualify as a farmer.
  • Q: Could you give me an idea of when selections will be announced, and when we should plan for an earliest start date?
    A. Announcement will be made in Mid-February. Successful Applicants will be required to attend a New Grantee Meeting in early March, with projects starting Late March/Early April.
  • Q: We are looking to develop an eco-system of local farmers in Minnesota and connect these farmers and their produce (vegetables, livestock) to grocery stores, co-ops, end restaurants and end consumers using our technology. The end goal is farmers use our system to get online visibility and the use of reviews and ratings promotes them to have market access to other consuming participants at a fraction of the cost.
    A. This project doesn’t fit the Sustainable Agriculture Program. One of the key aspects is on-farm, demonstration grants with an emphasis on farmer leadership.
    There are a few other Grant Programs within the Agriculture Marketing and Development Division; they may be a better fit.
    Specialty Crop Block Grant Program: Goal is to increase the competitiveness of specialty crops in Minnesota.
    Value-Added Grant Program: Supports Minnesota agricultural producers and processors to increase sales of Minnesota agricultural products by expanding markets.
  • Q: I propose to develop, at a minimum, a five year study detailing the benefits of Ridge Till farming practices as it relates to: profitability per acre, soil health and structure, organic farming implications, conservation benefits. The project involves start-up capital to purchase equipment that will be then available throughout the course of the project.
    Ridge Till has been around since the mid-seventies, but as acreages have increased per farm and the advancement of chemical use in weed control, the practice has dwindled due to mechanical cultivation demands as the leading cause. In a climate of ever increasing costs/acre and soil structure/health concerns, Ridge Till can be a viable option to help alleviate these concerns while increasing yields with reduced expenditures. The impact will be immediate and felt rapidly, especially from a time saving perspective. But given the five year period of time the project envisions, the financial and soil health benefits will become more focused and realized. I expect that all Certified Organic farmers and those in Transition will be greatly interested and impacted as Ridge Till can fit quite well into a mechanical weed suppression method needed in that environment. Through partnership with the AgCentric Center here in Staples, MN information and education can be disseminated quickly and efficiently to reach a very broad area. As a part of the greater MnSCU system of Farm Management Education, education materials and information can be offered to all interested.
    My primary purpose is education. To educate people associated with production agriculture to the benefits of Ridge Till farming practices; financial and agronomical. The project has the potential for reaching an audience world-wide as data collected will be shared on the Center for Farm Financial Managements website-FinBin. The immediate audience will be area farmers as well as those state wide students enrolled in the Farm Business Management Program. The project is open to all people of interest, of course. Objectives are: 1) Promote the education of best-management practices using Ridge Till methods related to crop production 2) Provide on-site education in equipment use, soil health and conservation measures and production techniques 3) To analyze data on a per acre basis to evaluate income/expenses and benchmark against other practices being used in this areas well as other parts of the state.
    A. A few key items to note: 1) Farmers must be meaningfully involved in the project and have demonstrated an interest in the results. We suggest you explain why the farmers are interested, not why they should be interested. 2) Projects must take place on a working farm. 3) "Startup capital to purchase equipment” may be a tough sell for the Review Panel. 4) Project maximum duration under this program is 3 years.
  • Q: If our project is selected and awarded how are the budgeted award dollars distributed?
    Are they paid according to the amount designated in each year, at the beginning of the year? Is the grantee paid at the beginning of the project or at the end of the project?
    A. An initial payment is made upon execution (all parties have signed) of the grant agreement. Additional payments are made upon receipt and approval of a progress report due in December of each year. These payments are based on the amounts you list in the budget table as total per year. 10% of the total award amount is held back until the final progress report is satisfactorily submitted.
  • Q: If I currently have a grant, am I eligible to apply for another project?
    A. Yes, you are eligible to apply for another project.
  • Q: We are currently commercially producing microgreens on a small scale and have been looking at various hydroponic methods of growing. We are interested in evaluating the feasibility of a small-scale, indoor vertical hydroponic system.
    Who would be the 'best' people to choose as Technical Cooperators? We have been speaking with current hydroponic producers to help us with the technical aspects of operating the system, as well as produce buyers to assist in evaluating our produce and advise on quality.
    A. We recommend contacting the Chief of the Horticulture Department at the University of Minnesota, as they may be able to recommend faculty with expertise in this area. Or Kathy Draeger of Regional Partnerships (also a U of M faculty member).
  • Q: I understand you can only receive one Sustainable Demonstration Grant at a time, but can I submit more than one application (multiple project ideas) knowing it is only possible for one to be funded?
    A. Yes.
  • Q: Can I spend grant money on equipment rental or use of my own equipment?
    A. Yes to both. You can charge reasonable per acre or per hour charge (e.g., woodchipper, skidsteer use).
  • Q: Do I need a technical cooperator? What if I don’t have a technical cooperator?
    A. The Request for Proposal requires that farmers involve at least one technical cooperator and that any/all include a letter of commitment.
  • Q: Can submit the same project to another funder besides the MDA?
    A. Yes, you can apply to multiple funders for the same (or a similar/related project.) You are required to include that information in the last question of the application.
  • Q: Where would I go for technical assistance with research and design of the field experiment and writing the grant application?
    A. These can also be your Technical Cooperators: University of Minnesota (U of MN) Extension staff, U of MN researchers in the field of your on-farm research project, Soil and Water Conservation District representatives, Land Stewardship Project (LSP) staff, MDA staff in pesticide management, fertilizer management, or water conservation, instructor at a Community College, etc.
  • Q: We are examining the potential for using woody biomass fuels to provide heating for poultry houses in Minnesota. The program Purpose states that the program was created to “to demonstrate and publicize the energy efficiency, environmental benefit, and profitability of sustainable agriculture techniques or systems from production through marketing.” Do you believe that renewable biomass heating projects would be eligible for this grant program? And if so what type of costs is the program aimed at covering?
    A. Research on the subject of the potential/long term economic benefit of using renewable biomass heating of poultry houses on Minnesota farms does sound like an eligible project. The applicant must be a Minnesota farmer, educational institution, staff of an educational institution, or a non-profit organization located in Minnesota. This grant program funds the cost to conduct research or a demonstration on one or more farms and share findings with the public, particularly the farming community. Please see reports about energy projects our program has funded, which are available in the Greenbook. Eligible costs include testing/analysis of samples, staff or consulting time for project work, printing or other communication/outreach costs, supplies and/or materials, travel, and rental or lease of farm equipment needed to do the project. The cost of purchasing a biomass fuel burner would not be eligible, but you could use grant funds to rent equipment.
  • Q: I understand that SADG grant funding wouldn’t pay for specific equipment or installation costs, I wonder if it would fund any feasibility studies or consulting work for other farms that might want to investigate biomass energy systems for their own farms? The intent is to demonstrate to other poultry growers the potential in terms of energy savings and health benefits to the animals of a biomass energy system.
    A. The SADG program does not prohibit feasibility studies. The costs for a SADG grantee to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study to examine the potential of using specific biofuels to provide heating for a farm livestock operation would be eligible.
    When we think about it, a SADG project is in itself a feasibility study, but usually is practical and not theoretical.
    The review committee typically looks favorably on projects that have done due diligence in terms of a literature review. However, we cannot anticipate how reviewers will react to funding a feasibility study as a major budget item.
    In short, this grant program is designed to fund innovative farm-level approaches that other farmers will be interested in adopting if they work, and that farmers can avoid adopting if they don’t work.
  • Q: I have two technical cooperators lined up that will assist with this grant project (if funded). From reading Greenbook articles, many of the approved applicants have several technical cooperators listed. Will my chances of approval be higher if I add other technical cooperators in my application even though their contributions to my project are quite small?
    A. The reviewers do not score more points or give extra points for entering more collaborators than required in the application. If the applicant thinks they will benefit from using more technical cooperators, he/she should include them in their application.
  • Q: I would like further explanation of what is included as labor costs “beyond normal farming operations” under eligible costs. Would the labor for "normal farming operations" include the planting and care of the plants and the setting up of the components in this study?
    A. Labor spent on project work can be assigned to the budget (if you will have a control plot, it is part of a demonstration or experiment, so you can include labor working on it). Costs for labor for time spent doing other farming duties are not eligible for grant funds, so you will need to track time solely spent at working on the approved grant project. You should clearly explain what you expect to learn from this demonstration and what others will learn from it in your application.
  • Q: Does the MDA have a list of past recipients of the AGRI Sustainable Ag Demonstration Grants (SADG) with any details of the projects that is publicly available?
    A. A prospective applicant can request a list of the titles of all of the projects that have been completed before or in 2016 from Ann Kuzj at ann.kuzj@state.mn.us. The list is organized according to the type of project (Alternative Markets & Specialty Crops, Cropping Systems & Soil Fertility, Energy, Fruits & Vegetables, and Livestock). Alternatively, information can be found using the following links:
    • List of FY2017 SADG recipients and project titles with county of project on our SADG website.
    • List of FY2016 SADG recipients with project titles on page 25 of our 2016 AGRI Legislative Report (PDF: 2.09 MB / 30 pages).
    • List of FY2015 SADG recipients with project titles on page 25 of our 2015 AGRI Legislative Report (PDF: 1.49 MB / 29 pages).
    • List of FY2014 SADG recipients with project titles on page 23 of our 2014 AGRI Legislative Report (PDF: 12.9 MB / 30 pages).
    • A list of project titles can be found on each Greenbook page (from 2013-2016). Each Greenbook will have some of the projects started up to three years prior to the year published (for example, the 2016 Greenbook will have some of the projects started in 2013, most of the projects started in 2014, and all of the projects started in 2015).
  • Q: We would like to submit an application for a Cropping Systems and Soil Fertility research and demonstration project that requires the use of 2 – 4 weather stations and soil probes. Each weather station costs about $1,100. We see that equipment or other non-supply items, that cost more than $1,000 each are not eligible grant project costs. Can the weather stations be purchased through the grant if our application is approved?
    A. Since the weather stations and soil probes appear to be directly related and needed for the project, they will be eligible costs for this grant. However, we will need to work with the current Request for Proposal restriction that the maximum cost for each equipment item is $1,000. The intent of the $1,000 limit is so grant funds would not be used to purchase skid steers, tractors and other general farm equipment that will be used for general farming purposes during and long after the grant project is completed.
    We thought of two ways that you could legitimately request for these items to be included in Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Budget of your application:

    • One would be for a business entity (including yourself) to purchase the weather stations and then request the cost from the grant to rent them for the grant project from the owner- the total amount of rent should be reasonable and consistent with advertised rental rates, but could add up to the actual cost for their purchase. This way would apply better if the expected life of the weather stations is 3 years or slightly longer.
    • The other way would be to request just $1,000 for each weather station. This way would apply better if the expected life of the weather stations is quite a bit longer than 3 years.
  • Q: I am not sure how to develop my budget in the application. I am concerned that the actual expenditures will be different from the amounts I put in the budget. How does that play out?
    A. In the grantee’s annual financial and progress report, we expect the grantee to report their actual grant project expenditures. We know, and allow, small deviations from predicted costs as long as the grant project work plan is followed in good faith. If larger changes to the budget or work plan are needed because of circumstances out of the grantee’s control, challenges encountered or things learned as the project is proceeding, we ask that the grantee requests these changes ahead of time or at least as they become evident. These requests are approved the vast majority of the time.
  • Q: What is an acceptable wage, in dollars per hour, for our family members to use for payment by the grant while working on the grant project?
    A. The wage rate you request should be the usual rate of pay for someone doing that job. We think that $10.00 to $20.00 per hour would be reasonable rate of pay for someone doing most regular farm tasks or light construction that does not require certification or expertise (electrical work, for example). If you, or someone you know, is qualified to do statistical analysis of the project data, then the rate of pay for this work would be $30.00 to $35.00 per hour.
  • Q: We are applying via our university and were wondering how overhead can be justified within the budget. Can we budget overhead? The university’s standard where possible is 12% of the total request, and the university will match it. The overhead is mostly returned to the grantees, but a percentage may be used to leverage further research by university faculty.
    A. In the ineligible costs section of the Request for Proposal (RFP), indirect costs are not specifically listed as ineligible because this RFP and application were designed with farmer applicants in mind. Under eligible costs in the RFP, wages for time spent directly on the grant project are eligible. Therefore, all the costs listed in the budget should tie directly to grant project work. This would include personnel, equipment and supply costs. You may add wages of support staff by function for the approximate number of hours they work on the grant project. For example, an appropriate number of hours in wages by your finance/accounting staff person for keeping track of this grant’s expenditures and preparing financial reports, and for an administrative staff person to do grant project work such as organizing the outreach event, may be listed in the personnel table of the budget. You may also include costs of supply item(s), as long as the purchase can be tracked to the grant and the item is needed for the grant project.
  • Q: I would like to conduct a grant project on methods of establishing cover crops within a watershed. I do not farm any land in the watershed but was wondering if I could ask for compensation for control of enough acres to do the grant project within the watershed to help increase the overall impact of this project?
    A. Yes, compensation to the farmer for use of the farmer’s land for the length of time to conduct the grant project is eligible and should be included in the budget.

Updated: December 13, 2017

MDA Contact

Ann Kuzj, Grant Specialist
ann.kuzj@state.mn.us, 651-201-6028

Ag Marketing & Development Division