Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill.
When farmers and entrepreneurs take raw agricultural products like vegetables or grains and turn them into something value-added – like jams or bread – they not only improve their income, but also contribute to community and rural economic development and enhance food choices for consumers. The Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program provides competitively awarded grants to individual independent agricultural producers, groups of independent producers, producer-controlled entities, organizations representing agricultural producers, and farmer or rancher cooperatives to create or develop value-added producer-owned businesses. These grants may be used to fund business and marketing plans and feasibility studies or to acquire working capital to operate a value-added business venture or alliance.
Learn More About VAPG!
The Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program is a competitive grant program administered by the Rural Business-Cooperative Service of USDA that provides funding to farmers and groups of farmers to create or develop value-added producer-owned businesses. These enterprises help increase farm income and marketing opportunities, create new jobs, contribute to community economic development, and enhance food choices for consumers.
The term “value-added” includes any agricultural commodity or product whose value has been increased by:
Grants may be used to fund one of the following activities:
Entities eligible to apply for VAPG funds are:
Agricultural producers eligible for the program include farmers, ranchers, and harvesters, including loggers and fishermen. The applicant producer(s) must supply at least half of the commodity needed for the project and clearly demonstrate that the project will expand the customer base and increase revenues. Businesses with majority farmer ownership are eligible to apply but cannot make up more than 10 percent of total awarded funds.
Whether enabling dairy farmers in Nebraska to expand their line of fluid milk products or allowing an organic grain farmer in Missouri to test the feasibility of equipment purchases for on-farm processing and milling, the Value-Added Producer Grant program has been helping thousands of farmers around the country with expanding their customer base and income by creating new or developing existing value-added businesses.
Sample projects that were launched with VAPG funds include:
Read more about how VAPG is helping to provide new and increased marketing opportunities for farmers, spurring rural economic development, and providing consumers with more food choices by viewing a complete list of previous Value-Added Producer Grant award recipients:
Also, check out NSAC’s Local and Regional Food Systems Blog to learn more about how VAPG is helping to provide new and increased marketing opportunities for farmers, as well as additional news and resources on VAPG and other relevant programs, including funding announcements.
How to Apply and Program Resources
Each year, USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service publishes a Notice of Funding Available, or NOFA, in the Federal Register and solicits applications from eligible farmers and groups of farmers to apply for value-added producer grants. There is no set timeframe for when the NOFA is typically released. Usually, applicants have 60 to 90 days to apply and submit their applications to USDA.
Proposals must be submitted via www.grants.gov. Applications are first sent to state USDA Rural Development offices for review and evaluation for completeness and eligibility. They are next sent to independent, non-federal grant reviewers to be evaluated and ranked. USDA staff in Washington then conducts a final review to assign any additional administrative priority points.
There are two types of grants under VAPG:
In general, working capital requests of $50,000 or more must be supported by an independent feasibility study and business plan. However, for proposed market expansion for (an) existing value-added agricultural product(s) that has (or have) been produced and marketed for at least 2 years, a business or marketing plan may be submitted instead of a feasibility study.
Among other things, grant funds may not be used for repair, acquisition, or construction of a building or facility or to purchase, rent, or install fixed equipment. A list of ineligible uses of grant funds is available at 7 CFR Part 4284.926.
All grant funds must be matched on a 1:1 basis. Matching funds may be in the form of cash or eligible in-kind contributions. Up to 25 percent of the total project cost, or in other words, up to 50 percent of the match, may come from the farmers’ own time and effort (sometimes known as “sweat equity”) put into the project. The other half or more of the match must be in cash.
By law, there are three 10 percent funding set-aside categories, one for mid-tier value chain projects, one for projects that benefit beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers, and one for projects in persistent poverty counties. The set-asides are intended to ensure that these priorities are more likely to be supported in funded grants. Any of these funds that are set-aside but remain unused by June 30 of each year are re-pooled so they can be used to support other grants.
Additionally, in making grant awards, USDA is required by law to prioritize projects that increase opportunities for (1) small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches, (2) beginning farmers or ranchers, (3) socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers, and (4) veteran farmers or ranchers.
In ranking VAPG applications, USDA awards up to 10 points to those projects that are focused on aiding farmers in these categories. If two or more applications have the same ranking point total, the one that addresses one of the program priorities will be ranked higher than one that does not.
For more information on how to apply, please see the following websites:
VAPG was first authorized in 2000 and provided with $20 million per year in mandatory funding. The program was subsequently expanded as part of the 2002 Farm Bill to include inherently value-added production, such as organic crops or grass-fed livestock, and funding doubled to $40 million per year. In the 2008 Farm Bill, the program was expanded again to include locally produced and marketed food products and mid-tier value chains.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, VAPG was one of just three programs in the Rural Development Title to receive mandatory funding, but its funding dropped dramatically to $15 million total for all five years of the bill, along with an authorization for additional discretionary funding.
The 2008 Farm Bill also created two 10 percent funding set-aside categories, one for mid-tier value chain projects, and one for projects creating opportunities for beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers. Additionally, the 2008 Farm Bill required USDA to prioritize projects that increase opportunities for: (1) small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches, (2) beginning farmers or ranchers, and (3) socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers.
The 2014 Farm Bill makes two significant changes to the program by adding veteran farmers and ranchers as a new fourth priority category and also changes the process for providing priority consideration for projects by groups of producers. Rather than having group applicants meet a numerical requirement regarding what percentage of a cooperative’s members are beginning, socially disadvantaged or veteran farmers, USDA will now be required to prioritize those projects that “best contribute to creating or increasing marketing opportunities for small and medium-sized family farms and ranches or beginning, socially disadvantaged, or veteran farmers and ranchers.”
The 2014 Farm Bill provides $63 million in one lump sum mandatory funding for the program for the years 2014-2018. The bill does not dictate how much should be spent each year.
While this is a substantial increase over recent years, current funding levels for VAPG are still a fraction of what they were at the height of the program in the 2002 Farm Bill.
Value Added Producer Grants Program Funding
|Fiscal Year||Total Mandatory Funding Available (in millions)|
|5 yr total||$58.5|
*No mandatory funds were used in Fiscal Year 2014.
In addition, Congress also appropriates annual discretionary funding for the program. The appropriated amounts for the Fiscal Years 2012-2016 were as follows. Future appropriations for VAPG will be determined on an annual basis by Congress. USDA will use the combination of mandatory and discretionary funding for the program each year.
Recent Appropriations Funding for VAPG
|Fiscal Year||Appropriated Annual Funding (in millions)|
Section 6203 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 231(b) of the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 1632a(b).
Last updated in October 2016.