Rural Development and REAP: Emphasizing the ‘US’ in USDA
By Sarah Waring, New Hampshire State Director for USDA Rural Development
When I get the opportunity to talk about US Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s mission area and programs with partners and customers, I usually start with the size of the agency and its scope and diversity: From the Forest Service (FS), Animal and Plant Health Inspection (APHIS) and Food and Nutrition Services (FNS), to the USDA Climate Hubs, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farmer’s Service Agency (FSA), the USDA has dozens of sub-agencies and thousands of people all across the country working with thousands of farmers, communities and rural stakeholders.
Rural Development (RD) is not as well-known as some of the other USDA agencies, but we are the one that provides community- and economic-development support services. These take the form of grants, loans and loan guarantees to advance homeownership, public health and safety, essential community facilities and infrastructure, and business support.
How does this work affect our community?
The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides grant funding and guaranteed loan financing to agricultural producers and rural small businesses for renewable-energy systems and to make energy-efficiency improvements. Agricultural producers may also apply for energy-efficient equipment and loan guarantees. A farmer can both lower their energy bills and their carbon emissions through REAP, and there are diverse clean-energy technologies that qualify for funding.
Examples of REAP success stories abound. In Alstead, Noah Elbers of Orchard Hill Breadworks decided to take his world-famous bakery 100% solar and received a $31,245 grant to build a 32.5kW array, saving his operation $6,400 each year. In the Lakes Region, the program helped fund a 15kWm, roof-mounted solar array at Moulton Farm with a grant of just over $8,000. The energy produced is the equivalent of 420 gallons of heating oil, saving John Moulton and his family about $2,400 annually. Then there’s the White Mountain Paper Company, awarded a $250,000 REAP grant to install modern boilers at its Gorham location, which will save the company $270,000 annually. Converted to kilowatt-hours, the energy savings is enough to power the equivalent of 660 homes!
These are just a few of the great REAP projects of varying sizes, scales and locations throughout New Hampshire that our team has been able to support. And while RD has other effective, well-established programs for farmers, businesses, communities and residents, in recent years we’ve announced a suite of programs focused on rebuilding farm and food viability in rural America.
How can you take advantage of REAP?
The Inflation Reduction Act has strengthened and improved this important RD program that was already popular among farmers because they can apply directly for its grant funds. The recent changes make it even more attractive than before, and I’d like to draw your attention to what has changed by offering early guidance on how to apply. Federal applications can be daunting but the more you know going in, the better off you’ll be.
Three basic questions will get you off on the right REAP foot:
Who is an eligible applicant?
Any agricultural producer who is directly engaged in production of ag products, and for whom at least 50% of their gross income comes from ag operations. Also, if you’re running a small business (fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in annual receipts) you might be eligible, provided you are in a rural area (less than 50,000 people).
What is an eligible project?
There are two kinds of funding in Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). The first is for purchase and installation of renewable-energy systems, such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind, etc. The second is for purchase, installation and construction of energy- efficiency projects, like HVAC systems, insulation, lighting, cooling, electric equipment replacing diesel, etc.
How much funding is available?
This is the exciting part: If you are applying for a renewable energy project that meets certain standards, you may be eligible to have 50% of your project costs covered, up to $1 million! Also, the funding pool has been increased six-fold, so REAP will impact and benefit more businesses and the communities they call home than ever before. While many grants will be somewhere from 25% up to 50%, your project may be one that hits the mark for that maximum grant. For loan guarantees, you would work with your local lender to negotiate interest rates, and REAP funds can approve up to 80% of your loan.
To learn more or apply to the program, visit the REAP website.
A Diversity of Programs
You may already know about Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG), or Rural Business Development Grants (RBDG), but a few of our newer and time-limited programs include:
Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program
Opening again this summer and designed to help build, expand, or modernize operations, and support workforce and compliance for qualified meat and poultry processors.
Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program
Available to lenders to help guarantee food system loans for start-up and expansion of activities that help to rebuild a local food-supply chain from aggregation, processing, manufacturing, storage, transportation and more.
Fertilizer Production Expansion Program
Opening in the fall, for eligible applicants to increase the processing and manufacturing of fertilizer and nutrient alternatives in the US, from equipment and land purchase to modernization and upgrades of facilities.
We hope that you will explore these opportunities or tell your neighbors and friends about them. Our teams would love to work with eligible projects and partners in Cheshire County to advance our mission, help lower carbon footprints, and keep our farms and businesses viable and thriving!
Links to relevant programs and resources: USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) Rural Business Development Grants (RBDG) Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program Food Supply Chain Guaranteed Loan Program Fertilizer Production Expansion Program Orchard Hill Breadworks Moulton Farm