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US: Funding and resources now available for farm Value-Added projects

In conjunction with yesterday’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture inviting applications through its Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) Program, and in order to assist producers with the application process, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is releasing its latest guide to VAPG: the updated Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding.

The updated NSAC VAPG Guide provides helpful hints to improve a producer’s chances of obtaining funding from the highly competitive program and provides clear information on the program’s application requirements, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes. The Guide is available for free on the NSAC website: http://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/.

“The NSAC guide is a great resource for VAPG applicants. Farmers and farming organizations who have worked within Wisconsin and elsewhere in the country find the guide easy to use and extremely helpful to them in crafting their applications. We encourage farmers to get started using it early in the process,” said Margaret Krome, Program Director of the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and co-author of Building Sustainable Farms, Ranches, and Communities, a popular guide to federal funding opportunities that was developed in conjunction with USDA and the National Centre for Appropriate Technology (NCAT).

Individuals and groups of producers, as well as producer-controlled businesses, are eligible to apply for grants to create, improve, or expand value-added businesses – thereby increasing income for America’s farmers and ranchers through expanded marketing opportunities. The deadline for applications is February 24, 2014.

For this grant cycle, $10.5 million is available from 2013 funding, but additional funding will more than double the pot of money available for grants once Congress finalizes the agricultural funding bill for 2014.

The USDA announcement contains noteworthy changes for this year’s VAPG:

  • USDA is encouraging projects that incorporate food hubs (which involve the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally or regionally produced food) or bio-based products (commercial or industrial products composed of biological products or renewable agricultural or forestry materials, such as construction materials, papers, compost, and plastics). USDA is also placing special emphasis on projects from tribal communities.
  • The scope of on-farm renewable energy projects that qualify for funding has been narrowed to exclude solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro and instead focuses solely on projects that can produce energy from products or byproducts of farming, such as soybeans to biodiesel or electricity and methane from animal waste.

Administered by USDA Rural Development, the VAPG program has provided competitive grants to thousands of producers to acquire working capital or to fund business and marketing plans, as well as feasibility studies needed to establish viable value added businesses.

As a long term champion of VAPG, NSAC fought for the program’s inception in the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act. Since its enactment, NSAC has successfully worked to increase and maintain its funding and expand its mission to include organic food and farming, grass-fed and other sustainable livestock and dairy projects, local and regional food enterprises, a stronger focus on small and mid-sized agriculture, mid-tier value chains, and increase attention to underserved areas and populations.

“VAPG creates jobs in rural communities by increasing income and marketing opportunities for producers and by improving the local economy through job development and retention,” said Ms. Eugene Kim, NSAC Policy Specialist. “VAPG also enhances food choices for consumers.”

With House and Senate conferees currently working on a final version of the farm bill to replace the expired five-year 2008 Farm Bill, several important rural development programs, including VAPG, hang in balance. Both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill provide funding for VAPG, one of several programs left without farm bill funding following the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill last fall. However, neither version is close to the historic average funding level of $20 million in annual funding.

“We urge the farm bill conferees to restore funding for VAPG to the historic $20 million annual level,” said Kim. “As rural communities look for ways to combat outmigration and an expanded poverty rate, VAPG is one way to stabilize and renew those communities by creating jobs and improving economic opportunities.”

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