OHIO VALLEY — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA is making up to $44 million available to farmers, ranchers and businesses to develop new bio-based products and expand markets through the Value-Added Producer grant program.
“America’s farmers, ranchers and rural business owners are innovative entrepreneurs and this program helps them grow economic opportunities for their families and communities by increasing the value of the items they produce,” Vilsack said. “The Value-Added Producer grant program has a great track record of helping producers increase the value of products and expand their markets and customer base, strengthening rural America in the process.”
The grants may be used to develop new products and create additional uses for existing ones. Priority for these grants is given to veterans, members of socially disadvantaged groups, beginning farmers and ranchers, and operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches. Additional priority is given to applicants who seek funding for projects that will create or increase marketing opportunities for these types of operators.
Since 2009, USDA has awarded 1,126 Value-Added Producer grants totaling $144.7 million. USDA awarded 205 grants to beginning farmers and ranchers and are a key element of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates the department’s work to develop local and regional food systems.
Vilsack describes the cultivation of local and regional food systems as one of the four pillars of rural economic development that impacts farm family income and strengthens local economies. His office has supported providing consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects since between 2009. Industry data estimates that U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008.
Two examples of Value-Added Producer grant awards from 2015 include: Shoshone-Bannock Enterprises in Fort Hall, Idaho, received a $75,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study on processing, packaging and marketing buffalo meat, a first step in identifying potential new market opportunities. Sappa Valley Poultry in Oberlin, Kan., received a $49,663 grant to expand distribution of their free-range chicken products into eastern Colorado and western Kansas markets.
Congress increased funding for the program in the 2014 Farm Bill, a law that builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years. According to the USDA, the bill also served to achieve meaningful reform, resulting in billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.
More information on how to apply is in April 8 federal register. The deadline to submit paper applications is July 1. Electronic applications submitted through grants.gov are due June 24. Additional information and assistance is available through the USDA Rural Development office serving your county.