The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program is offering an opportunity for farmers and growers to conduct research and implement new and innovative sustainable agriculture practices on their farms.

“This grant program has been available to producers for several years and Maine has been very successful in receiving funding,” said Rick Kersbergen,University of Maine Extension educator.

The goal of the farmer/grower grant program is to develop, refine, and demonstrate new sustainable techniques and to explore innovative ideas developed by farmers across the region. Information gained from these farm-based projects may be used to redirect research priorities.

Applicants must be a farmer in the Northeast SARE region. It is not necessary to be farming full time, but the operation should have an established crop or animal product sold on a regular basis. Nonprofit farms may apply, but the primary activity of the farm must be to produce and sell food under the kinds of economic constraints that affect commercial growers. Many community-supported farms qualify, but farms where the primary mission is educational generally do not.

The Northeast SARE Farmer/Grower grant program supports producers who want to try an experiment, trial, or demonstration project on their farm, such as a new technique for adding value, a new crop, a pest-management strategy, or a method of direct sales, for example.

The goal is to help farmers explore sustainable and innovative production and marketing practices that are profitable, environmentally sound, and beneficial to the community. Successful proposals define a problem and offer innovative solutions. Proposals can address a broad range of agricultural production or marketing issues.

Before writing, it is important to talk the project through with a technical advisor. All projects must have a technical advisor, such as a county extension educator, NRCS staff, a university research or extension specialist, a private crop management consultant, or other agricultural professional. Although the technical advisor is required, the farmer should be the one actively in charge of the project.

There are two grant offerings–Grass Roots and Farm Trial. Grass Roots grants are experimental and innovative; the goal is to help farmers test new ideas. These are often ideas developed in the daily business of managing a farm, and should reflect the concerns and the barriers to sustainability specific to the crops or products. Grass Roots grants have no set restrictions on content – farmers can experiment with a new crop, develop a machine or tool that does something new, try out a pest control or grazing technique, or explore adding value or a new way of marketing directly to the public.

In 2004, Northeast SARE awarded $219,593 to 38 farmers. Awards ranged from $1,121 to $10,000, and the average grant was about $5,800. In 2004, grant awards were paid in two installments-half when the project began and half when the final report was complete.

For more information call Rick Kersbergen at 1-800-287-1426, or Chris Reberg-Horton at 1-800-870-7270. The deadline for applications is Dec. 7.