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US: Farmers’ Guide helps growers navigate value-added grant program

Following months of consternation by farmers and advocacy groups alike, on Monday, August 28, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) finally announced its fiscal year (FY) 2017 Notice of Solicitation of Applications (NOSA) for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG). As one of the key organizations central to the creation of VAPG as part of the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has provided annual “farmers’ guides” to help producers navigate the program for the last several years. This week, NSAC released an updated version of its Farmers’ Guide to Applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program, which is available for free on NSAC’s website.

“A time-tested strategy for improving farm viability is to help farmers and ranchers capture more of the consumer dollar,” said Wes King, NSAC Policy Specialist. “One of the ways we can do that on the federal level is by providing support that allows producers to transform what they grow and raise into a value-added product. At a time when commodity prices are stagnant and many family farmers are struggling economically, the opportunities that the VAPG program can offer to family farmers are invaluable. Because we understand that farmers and ranchers are busy people and that navigating the federal grant process is no easy task, NSAC regularly develops and updates free and easy-to-use guides to federal programs like VAPG.”

VAPG is a critical program for farmers and food entrepreneurs nationwide, because it helps them turn raw product into processed goods (e.g., milk into cheese or apples into apple-cider) that can bring in significantly more revenue. USDA Rural Development, which administers the program, will issue at least $18 million in competitive grant funds this fiscal year.

VAPG funds can be used for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and for marketing efforts to establish viable value-added businesses. Up to $75,000 is available for planning grants and up to $250,000 is available for implementation grants. Individual and groups of producers, as well as farmer coops and producer-controlled businesses, are eligible to apply for these grants, which help to increase income and marketing opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers, along with fishermen, loggers, and other harvesters of agricultural commodities.

The deadline to submit paper applications is January 31, 2018, while the deadline to submit electronic applications is January 24, 2018. Electronic applications must be submitted through grants.gov.

NSAC is pleased to see that two very important changes were made to this year’s VAPG NOSA: the extension of the application time period and the addition of set aside funding for “persistent poverty counties”. The significant extension of the application period in the FY 2017 NOSA for VAPG gives farmers nearly a full 150 days to turn in materials. The allowance of this longer window of time is extremely helpful for family farmers, who are often using all their resources on-farm during harvest time and are not able to carve out the needed time to craft and submit a thoughtful application.

The FY 2017 NOSA also includes a new funding set-aside for projects in “persistent poverty counties,” in addition to the already existing set-asides for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and projects focused on mid-tier value chain development. The inclusion of this reservation of funds fulfills a directive that Congress included in the FY 2017 omnibus appropriations package and will increase access to funds for underserved farmers and food producers, creating new opportunities for food entrepreneurship nationwide. Persistent poverty counties is defined as “any county that has had 20 percent or more of its population living in poverty over the past 30 years, as measured by the 1980, 1990, and 2000 decennial censuses, and 2007–2011 American Community Survey 5-year average.”

Details on the program, including both of the changes made in this year’s NOSA, are included in the online guide.

NSAC was instrumental in helping to secure $15 million in discretionary funding for VAPG in FY 2017, and strongly recommends that Congress provide level funding for the program in FY 2018. As the FY 2018 appropriations process winds to a close and FY 2019 discussions begin, NSAC will continue to provide regular program and appropriations updates via their website: http://sustainableagriculture.net.

Publication date: 9/13/2017

 


 

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