It seems that beekeeping has reached a peak of broad popularity these days, with setting up a small apiary now a frequently enjoyed pastime. Yet where things really matter, it hasn’t been going too well for the honeybee in America. In 1947 there were six million managed hives in the United States, a number which by 2017 had more than halved. This is a problem, and not just for the environmental idealist. US food production, for both home and foreign markets, depends heavily on the pollination process. To give you an idea of the money involved, U.S. fruit, vegetable, and nut production is worth $15 billion. Increasing the American bee population is therefore in everyone’s interests, and this is the primary reason (although there are others) why grants are available for budding beekeepers looking to start their own apiary.
The vast majority of these grants are provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and thousands of initiate beekeepers apply for them regularly. Beekeeping takes some diligence – and it is certainly not for everyone – but at the same time it is certainly something that can be learned and successfully carried out without a great deal of advanced training. In short, if you feel like you want to do it, you probably can.
Yet beekeeping equipment – hives, frames, smokers, honey extractors and, well, bees – don’t come for free and, depending on the size of your apiary, there can be some considerable startup costs involved in beekeeping. However, as mentioned, many official bodies, government and otherwise, are keen to provide beekeeping grants to help increase the general buzzy biomass in America. But how can you go about getting one?
How Beekeeping Grants Work
First off, it is important to note that there are plenty of grants available. Thus, the matter becomes more a question of “what is right for me.” The important thing to remember is that beekeeping grants are not handed out for the hobbies and leisure of the American public; there is always a solid concern behind offering such incentives.
Most of these concerns are at least tangentially related to the main one – declining bee populations – although there may be others too, such as increasing the provision of locally sourced produce for the public or more general sustainable farming initiatives. The take-home here is that, to get a grant, you will need to look like you are set to make a difference: one or two backyard hives will not fill the USDA with confidence that you can make a difference to the peril of the honeybee.
To properly answer the question “how to apply for beekeeping grants,” we must look at the generalities and specifics of the matter. Your grant will most likely come from the USDA, which immediately suggests basic procedures involved in getting one. Beyond this though, much depends on precisely what type of grant you hope to apply for. As mentioned, grants are handed out for different reasons and to address different problems, so the conditions and expectations on you will vary accordingly.
With beekeeping, grants will often fall into two categories. Those to encourage pollination and pollinator bee populations, and those concerned with honey production. Just as in beekeeping itself, these two things can be intertwined, and you will often find grants that will make reference to both.
It is also important to remember that not all of these grants are specifically for beekeeping. Many are concerned more with general agricultural practices or specifically where you intend to sell your produce. Selling, incidentally, is a must; government grants are for commercial enterprises, not a backyard hobby. That said, there is always an upper limit on beekeeping grants – there is no need for free money if you are making a killing.
Beekeeping grants may be offered for multiple reasons, but they are nearly always welcomed by beekeepers for only one reason – beekeeping is a tight margin business. To properly make a living from it, the work is essential and the grants help.
Applying for a USDA Beekeeping Grant
First off, they are not all technically “beekeeping” grants. As mentioned above, some are offered for those looking to set up any of a wide array of agricultural endeavors (bees are considered livestock, which qualifies beekeepers for many of the grants pertaining to that). But setting that aside, our list of a few commonly applied-for “beekeeping” grants in the US (see below) share much in common This is to be expected, considering it is usually the one organization that is responsible for giving them out. So what are some general tips on dealing with the USDA?
For one thing, if you are applying for a federal grant (for anything) you’ll soon find yourself on the website grants.gov. This is where it all begins when applying for a USDA grant and it should be your first port of call for applications. The website itself is fairly wieldy and you will be able to search for both keyboards and casually browse what is available. Usefully, the website has a “Grants 101” page that provides the most general information (I say “general” – it still manages to be pretty detailed!) and this is a great thing to check out before you do anything.
Applying for a grant from USDA is a process of some 13 different steps split into three main stages. These stages are called, simply enough, the Pre-Award, the Award, and the Post-Award stage. The first of these is where we are concerned. An application follows once a grant opportunity has been offered by the rather mysteriously named “grant makers.” A grant application is then downloaded from grants.gov, and this is precisely where the fun begins.
Grant applications can take weeks. A grant application takes the form of a PDF doc that is incrementally filled in with everything from basic organizational information to explanations of proposed work and financial data. Following this, the application must be checked for errors and eventually submitted. Then the ball is the court of the grant makers, but grants can be tracked and decision makers regularly contacted. This waiting period is far from simply months of silence then a yes or no.
The general grant process is both simple to understand yet time-consuming to complete. So if you plan to make it that far, you better pick the right grant in the first place.
A Few Typical Beekeeping Grants
USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program
These grants are administered by the USDA rural development program and would seem to be one of the grants specifically designed to improve, often struggling, rural communities by not only injecting some much needed cash into the local economy, but also providing rural residents with high quality produce that might otherwise be unavailable. This is, in many ways, what rural development is all about. Amounts are typically between $10,000 and $500,000 and are for small apiaries of fewer than 50 employees, less than $1 million annual revenue, and located outside small towns of 50,000 inhabitants or less.
USDA Conservation Innovation Grants
Conservation and bees are uniquely tethered, and innovative means of sustainable agriculture often suggest innovative means of sustainable apiculture. For this grant, you will have to demonstrate that your beekeeping approach is innovative in the furtherance of natural conservation. Perhaps organic beekeeping is your passion and you have found a way to do without pesticides – this is the grant for you.
USDA Conservation Reserve Program Pollinator Initiative
As you may have noted in our previous two entries on beekeeping grants, beekeeping can be an answer to local economic problems or natural conservation problems. This one is another for the latter camp, concerning the vital work bees do pollinating America’s flowers. Yet it is also one strictly for established beekeepers. A whopping $8 million is the ceiling here, and all you need to do is prove that radical steps will be taken to ensure plentiful food supply and protection for honeybee colonies, with a mind to increasing their general population.