$44 Million in USDA grants to help agricultural producers increase the value of their products

 

        

By Ramona du Houx

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on May 11, 2016 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. 

“I strongly encourage rural Maine agricultural producers to apply for this useful program, which can help provide an advantage in marketing or producing a value-added agricultural product. This type of rural Maine innovation leads to job creation and supports the local economy,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel. 


Aroostock Hops, LLC, (photos) recieved a Value-Added Producer Grant for $24,413. The grant paid for labor costs and to purchase consumable supplies to produce pelletized hops from fresh hops and to package the pellets in nitrogen-flushed, vacuum-sealed, labeled Mylar bags as well as for marketing and promotional expenses.

"Our natural curiosity about improving hop yield, quality, and best practices in growing hops organically, coupled with both our backgrounds in science, has led us to investigate some of our hop growing questions using an experimental approach.  We figured there must be lots of other hops farmers, especially in the Northeast, who were asking the same questions as us and would like to know about some of the things we were investigating.

"Over the years, we have been fortunate to work with a USDA program called Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), which provides grants and education to advance innovations in sustainable agriculture," states Aroostock Hops on their website.

The USDA grant helped Aroostock Hops partner with the University of Maine, and receive a Maine Technology (MTI) Seed Grant to fabricate a prototype hop harvester. 

The extra cash needed to turn a creative idea into a marketable product is where a lot of USDA grants have come into play in Maine.

Agriculture is one of the identified areas FocusMaine— a group of over 50 Maine stakeholders who are dedicated to help grow jobs and the state’s economy.

"Agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals were chosen because Maine's inherent strengths in these sectors allow to us to compete nationally and even internationally in those growing markets,” wrote ,” wrote Karen G. Mills is a senior advisor at the Harvard Business School, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and part of the leadership team of FocusMaine in an Op-ed in MaineBiz.

Secretary 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. 

“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,” said  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “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.”

Another example of a Maine Value-Added Producer Grant Program award in Cara Sammons, Flying Goat Farm in Acton (photo right). Their grant of $125,000 were be used to pay for packaging materials, labor costs and marketing expenses associated with increasing production as well as hiring personnel to do routine tasks such as cheese room cleaning, packaging, making deliveries to established retail outlets and restaurants, selling cheese at farmers markets, and bookkeeping.

Value-Added Producer 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.

  • More information on how to apply is on page 20607 of the April 8th Federal Register.
  • The deadline to submit paper applications is July 1, 2016.
  • Electronic applications submitted through grants.gov are due June 24, 2016. 

For questions or more information on how to apply, please contact Rural Development Business Programs Specialist Brian Wilson at 990-9168 or brian.wilson@me.usda.gov.

Value Added cheese produced by Flying Goat Farm

Value-Added Producer Grants 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.

Under Secretary Vilsack, USDA has supported providing consumers a stronger connection to their food with more than $1 billion in investments to over 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. 

Congress increased funding for the Value-Added program in the 2014 Farm Bill, with the help of Congresswoman Chillie Pingree. That law builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.  

Since 2009, USDA Rural Development has invested $11 billion to start or expand 103,000 rural businesses; helped 1.1 million rural residents buy homes; funded nearly 7,000 community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care facilities; financed 180,000 miles of electric transmission and distribution lines; and helped bring high-speed Internet access to nearly 6 million rural residents and businesses.

 USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor.