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

Background & Guidelines

Purpose: The Minnesota Legislature created this grant program to demonstrate and publicize the energy efficiency, environmental benefit, and profitability of sustainable agriculture techniques or systems from production through marketing. Per Minnesota Statute 17.116, the grants must fund research or demonstrations on Minnesota farms with funding from the Agriculture Growth, Research and Innovation Program (AGRI) (2017 Session Laws Chapter 88, Article 1, Sec. 2, Subd. 4b). If you have an idea of how to make farming more profitable, resource efficient, and personally satisfying, this program is for you.

Award amount: Maximum of $25,000 per grant. This year, a total of $250,000 is available.

Project Duration: 2 or 3 years (single year projects are no longer considered.)

NOTE: All successful applicants MUST attend a New Grantee Meeting during the first half of March 2018.

Who is eligible?

Minnesota farmers, educational institutions, individuals at educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply. Government entities are not eligible. Applicants must be Minnesota residents. Projects must take place on Minnesota farms. Projects led by a farmer or group of farmers receive additional points in scoring.

What is a “Farmer?”

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.

Eligible types of projects include (but are not limited to):

  • Enterprise diversification and organic production using traditional and non-traditional crops and livestock;
  • Cover crops and crop rotations;
  • Conservation tillage and weed management;
  • Seed breeding and/or conservation;
  • Integrated pest management systems for insects, weeds, and diseases;
  • Livestock production systems or management strategies;
  • Nutrient and pesticide management, including runoff protection;
  • Farm-based energy production such as wind, methane, or biomass;
  • Conservation (energy, soil, water);
  • Developing/refining/improving marketing opportunities, including season extension and post-harvest storage and handling;
  • Other creative ideas that address farm conservation, energy, and/or profitability.

Reviewers are looking for interesting ideas that may or may not work. Ideas do not have to be brand new, but should be new to Minnesota or the part of the state where they’re being proposed. For more ideas, see the MDA's Greenbook, where previously funded projects are summarized.

Review and award process

An external review panel reads, scores, and discusses all proposals. The panel changes each year and may include farmers, soil scientists, agronomists, horticulturists, educators, marketers, economists, and other agricultural experts. The panel recommends a set of proposals to the Commissioner of Agriculture, who makes final award decisions.

How do reviewers score the applications?

See the Reviewer Scoring Criteria below.

Cooperators & Cooperator Letters

If you are a farmer: you must involve at least one Technical Cooperator. She or he should have technical expertise that will strengthen the project. It might be assistance in soil science, biology, agronomy, horticulture, entomology, Extension, engineering, marketing, finance, data collection, statistics, etc. Use the Technical Cooperator to help design the project, carry it out, and/or review and interpret the results. This person is expected to serve as an advisor -- not someone you pay to do the project for you. A Technical Cooperator cannot be a family member.

Applications must include a letter of commitment from at least one Technical Cooperator. In the letter, the cooperator must explain how he or she will contribute to the project. If the budget contains funds for the cooperator, the letter must include the hourly rate that he or she will charge.

If you are not a farmer: you must have at least one Farmer Cooperator who is meaningfully involved in designing and carrying out the project. The budget should include funds to compensate the farmer for his or her involvement. The farmer is expected to be involved in project -- not simply provide land where it can be conducted.

Applications must include a letter of commitment from the farmer(s). In the letter, the farmer must explain how he or she will be involved in the project.

Other important information and requirements

  • Minnesota Department of Agriculture employees are not eligible to receive grants from this program.
  • Any applicant may receive only one Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant at a time.
  • Every project must publicize and hold an outreach event (preferably a field day) in the final season/year of the project.

Eligible costs include:

  • Wages for time spent directly on the grant project (beyond normal farming operations). Provide justification for the hourly rate;
  • Consultant fees. Provide justification for the hourly rate;
  • Costs to lease or use farm equipment needed for the project;
  • Durable equipment or other items necessary for the project valued at less than $1,000 each;
  • Project-related services such as soil testing or other analyses;
  • Project-related travel;
  • Postage, printing, and telephone expenses related to the project;
  • Outreach expenses (advertising, handouts, refreshments, etc.) for one outreach event in the final year.

Ineligible costs include:

  • Equipment or other items that cost more than $1,000. Examples include: tractors, motorized vehicles, buildings (including greenhouses and high tunnels), windmills or wind turbines, building construction, and computers;
  • Compensation for a grant writing consultant or grant manager;
  • Business start-up costs (i.e., starting a farm);
  • Pre-award costs (expenses incurred before a contract is signed).

Tips for Applicants – The most common reasons for low scores

  • Application doesn’t clearly explain the importance or potential impact of project. How are the findings going to benefit more than just the applicant? Or, put another way: why should taxpayer dollars support this effort?
  • Project is more about personal gain than about demonstrating a new or different technique or approach that others could benefit from.
  • Budget unrealistically high and/or includes purchase of ineligible items or excessive purchased services/consultant costs.
  • Poor budget detail – unclear how the money will be spent.
  • Inappropriate (or absent) technical or farmer cooperators.
  • Weak plan to share information/lessons learned and/or no outreach event included.
  • Project is trying to accomplish too much. Simple projects with one or two clear goals tend to score better.
  • Application doesn’t explain how the project will be evaluated or measured.

How to Apply

We strongly prefer that you use our on-line application process.

If you cannot apply online, you may request a copy of the application by contacting Ann Kuzj at 651-201-6028 or ann.kuzj@state.mn.us. Answer all questions completely within specified character or page limits. Use 12 point font, single space, within one inch page margins.

All completed applications must be received by 4:00 PM CST on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. Faxed or late proposals will not be accepted. All successfully submitted proposals will receive confirmation of receipt.

Getting Help

The MDA is happy to answer questions about the application process and ideas you might want to try. Contact Ann Kuzj at 651-201-6028 or ann.kuzj@state.mn.us.

Responses to all questions regarding the application process will be posted on the FAQ page within two weeks of submission.

Applicants may request and receive copies of previously funded applications. All personal and business sensitive information in the application will be blacked out.

Reviewer Scoring Criteria

Maximum possible points = 100

Project Leader is a Farmer or Group of Farmers (5 points)

Potential for Environmental Benefits (5)

Potential for Economic Benefits (cost savings and/or increased income) (5)

Potential for Energy Saving (5)

Project Rationale (10)
Is there a compelling reason to do this project?

Project Design and Methods (15)
Do the design and methods match the rationale?
Are the objectives clear?
Is the plan of work reasonable?

Evaluation (15)
Is there a plan for measuring and evaluating what happens (preferably for each objective)?
Does the project include a basis of comparison (for example, a control plot or treatment)

Outreach (10)
How effective is the plan to share information about the project with farmers and the broader agricultural community?

Budget (10)
Is the budget appropriate for the project as described? (Just right, too much, too little?)
Are the itemized costs realistic? Is budget detail sufficient to justify the request?
Do consulting/purchased service charges and wages exceed 40% of the total cost?

Transferability (10)
Likelihood that Minnesota farmers will adopt the demonstrated technologies or techniques -- if they work.

Applicant Qualifications (5)
Does applicant appear to have the necessary qualifications to do this project?

Technical or Farmer Cooperator(s) (5)
Do Cooperators provide the expertise this project needs? Are they meaningfully involved?

Commitment letter(s) from Farmer or Technical Cooperator(s) included and describe expertise, role in project, and hourly rate charged (if any)  Yes No

Outreach Event Planned for Final Year: Yes No