$44 Million Available for Ag Producers and Food Entrepreneurs to Develop New Products

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that $44 million is available to farmers, ranchers, and food entrepreneurs to develop new product lines. Funding will be made available through the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.

The deadline to apply electronically is June 24; for paper submitted application the deadline is July 1.  Up to $75,000 is available for planning grants and up to $250,000 is available for implementation grants, with project periods lasting from one to three years depending on the complexity of the project.

According to Traci Bruckner, Assistant Director of Policy at the Center for Rural Affairs, “These grants assist farmers and ranchers in starting or expanding ventures that increase the value of raw farm and ranch products and market unique and high-quality food  products, including local, natural, and organic foods. In times of low commodity prices, the help available through this program is especially appealing.”

Bruckner went on to explain that the grant program gives priority to projects that expand opportunities for small and mid-sized family farms and for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and military veteran farmers and ranchers. Local food marketing projects are eligible as well, particularly for distribution systems that increase the return to the farmer.

According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) the $44 million funding opportunity, the largest single-year award allocation in the program’s history, represents a boon for producers who are able to put forward proposals this year, but could leave future potential applicants out in the cold. This year’s allocation combines $10.75 million in discretionary funds from the FY 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act with half of the program’s 2014 Farm Bill mandatory funding – funding that was intended to last through the entire five-year farm bill cycle.

“Releasing half of the total 2014 Farm Bill money in just one funding cycle curtails the program’s ability to support farmers in developing value-added enterprises in future years,” said NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner. “We wholeheartedly support VAPG, a program which we have championed since its inception, but are disappointed in the decision to spend the majority of funds in a single grant round, leaving 2017 and 2018 shortchanged. We will continue to urge USDA to adopt strategies that ensure sound fiscal management and program effectiveness.”

Hoefner added, Timing has also been an issue for the program in recent years. Farmers and farm organizations have requested that USDA run the application process during the winter, when farmers are less busy and have more time to put together applications. Though USDA officials have repeatedly stated that this is their intent, the application cycle timing has been unpredictable and often delayed, with only one year in the last seven being issued in the winter months of the assigned fiscal year.

“This is a great program and its impact has been tremendous, but the ongoing tardiness of VAPG releases is less than ideal,” continued Hoefner. “By delaying the release of funding and not issuing the applications until the beginning of planting season, among the busiest of times for producers, farmers are discouraged from participating. It is our continuing hope that future application cycles will be better attuned to the needs and schedules of farmers.”

The delay also negates the farm bill provision designating 10 percent of total funding for a separate pool that only beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers compete for and another 10 percent for a separate pool for mid-tier value chains that link farmers to processors, distributors, and market outlets. Congress, assuming the program would start up in the winter months, set a June 30 end date for making awards under the special pools, the eighth month point in the government’s fiscal year. This year the application deadline is not until the day after the farm bill’s award deadline under the special priority funding pools, and hence they will not apply.

Farmers and ranchers can find a working proposal template for the Value Added Producer Grant Program at the following link -http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/value-added-producer-grants

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