August 29, 2017
Editor’s note: Following the publication of this blog post, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) will publish its updated Farmers’ Guide to Applying for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program. The Guide is a free resource that walks farmers through the program’s application requirements, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes.
Producing fresh, healthy food is hard work. In order to be a successful farmer or rancher, you need tools and resources that are customized to your particular field of agriculture. This also holds true for producers who decide to take their products a step further and add “food entrepreneur” to their resumes. For producers interested in transforming their raw ingredients into finished products and marketing their goods to a wider base of customers, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program is an important resource.
On Monday, August 28, USDA announced the availability of at least $18 million in funding through the competitive VAPG program. Of the $18 million, $15 million comes from the fiscal year (FY) 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act, while $3 million comes directly from the 2014 Farm Bill. When Congress finalizes appropriations legislation for FY 2018, most likely in December, USDA may choose to fold FY 2018 funding for VAPG into the FY 2017 Notice of Solicitation for Applications (NOSA). Under this scenario, the total funding for the combined NOSA could equal up to $34 million, and USDA would not issue a separate notice for FY 2018. USDA is unlikely to decide whether or not to combine the two years’ worth of funding until the end of the calendar year.
Administered by USDA Rural Development, the VAPG program provides competitive grants to producers 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.
In order to help to ensure a strong applicant pool, we encourage all readers to help get the word out to qualified individuals and groups.
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.
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.
USDA has created a “toolkit” for applicants, which includes an application checklist, templates, required grant forms, and instructions (this can be found under the “Forms & Resources” tab).
Changes in FY 2017
The FY 2017 Notice of Solicitation of Applications (NOSA) largely mirrors the FY 2016 NOSA; however, two substantial changes are worth noting.
First, the FY 2017 NOSA includes an extended application period of nearly 150 days. This is a significantly longer application window than was provided in previous NOSAs, and will allow farmers and ranchers time to put together high-quality proposals before and after the busy fall harvest season.
Second, the latest VAPG NOSA reserves 10 percent of USDA Rural Development funding, including funding for VAPG, for grants in persistent poverty counties. This reservation of funds fulfills a directive that Congress included in the FY 2017 omnibus appropriations package. For the purposes of this set aside, “persistent poverty counties” are 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.”
NSAC’s Legacy of VAPG Advocacy
NSAC helped to create VAPG as part of the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act and has been one of the leading advocates for the program ever since. In the 2002 Farm Bill we successfully fought to strengthen and expand the program to include organic products and sustainable livestock niche markets.
As part of the 2008 Farm Bill negotiations, NSAC won improvements to VAPG, including the addition of local food enterprises and food supply networks linking farm to table. We also worked with Congress to secure program priorities for assisting small and mid-size family farms, as well as for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
In the 2014 Farm Bill, NSAC worked with Congress to ensure that program priorities are being met when USDA selects successful proposals. We also won the addition of returning veteran farmers as a new priority category.
In FY 2017, NSAC successfully secured $15 million in discretionary funding for VAPG, and we are seeking to continue this funding level in FY 2018. To learn more about the status of VAPG funding in the ongoing FY 2018 budget and appropriations debates, click here.