Making a SHOT for Real Agriculture Change via Federal Ag Funding

By Maria Doerr, Program Officer, Rural Climate Partnership

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There is *more federal funding available today than ever before* to advance climate and equity outcomes in our agriculture system. Yet without timely, focused investments from philanthropy, these funds are more likely to benefit practices with marginal climate benefits, go to the most established and conventional producers, and continue greenwashing status-quo efforts backed by Big Ag.

Agriculture is responsible for ~11% of US emissions, not including those from agrochemical manufacturing and transportation. Without sustained action, the contribution from agriculture will grow. 

To help fill this gap, two SAFSF members, the Rural Climate Partnership and Regenerative Agriculture Foundation, launched the SHOT (Soil Health Opportunities & Tools) Fund earlier this year.

The SHOT Fund is a new joint federal funding implementation initiative designed to harness historic federal investments to effectively reduce agriculture emissions, transform farming systems, and benefit diverse rural communities. The initiative was born out of the needs and challenges expressed by agriculture nonprofits, farmers, and NRCS-USDA alike. 

The majority of federal agriculture funding has gone towards marginal farming practices that have questionable impact and can be easily reversed. In contrast, the SHOT Fund is focused on supporting durable, transformative, and climate-smart farming practices like the following: 

In addition, federal funding has disproportionately benefited large conventional producers rather than diverse and small-scale farmers. The SHOT Fund aims to see federal funding more equitably reach Indigenous Farmers, Farmers of Color, and small-scale, low-wealth farmers in the Midwest and the South. These regions produce a significant portion of US agriculture emissions, play a central role in US policymaking, and are home to a sizable percentage of US Farmers of Color.  

Furthermore, capacity and financial burdens have made it nearly impossible for small agriculture nonprofits to go after federal funding. Specific expertise is often needed to apply to federal programs, ongoing capacity is needed to manage funds, and upfront capital is needed to pay for work before receiving a federal reimbursement, sometimes months later. The SHOT Fund provides capacity support and financing to ensure nonprofits and farmers who are meaningfully transforming our agriculture systems have equitable access to federal programs – and can find markets for their products. 

With a seed grant from the Ballmer Group, the work is already underway. The SHOT Fund has provided capacity grants to several nonprofits going after federal grants or awards and is providing capacity support on a key NRCS-USDA funding program. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is expected to announce $600 million to $2 billion in available funding for its next cycle in late February. The team held two expert-led webinars on RCPP for interested nonprofits – and is offering free 1:1 guidance from Kari Cohen, the former RCPP lead at USDA, to any agriculture nonprofit committed to climate-smart practices. You can explore the SHOT Fund Concept Paper here to learn more about the initiative. If you’d like to connect to learn more about how the SHOT Fund will put a thumb on the scale for regenerative agriculture or explore partnering, please contact our team at [email protected] and [email protected].