April 8, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Wes King, 202-547-5754 WKing@sustainableagriculture.net
Ferd Hoefner, 202-547-5754 FHoefner@sustainableatriculture.net
Funding Available through Value-Added Producer Grant Program
Program helps farmers generate more income, create jobs for rural communities
An apple is a beautiful thing. This flavor-filled fruit is delicious just the way nature made it, but it also has the possibility to become something arguably more “valuable”, like apple sauce or hard apple cider. For farmers, adding value to their products means adding revenue to their businesses, which also means more jobs and opportunities for their communities. The Value-Added Producer Grant program (VAPG) is intended to help farmers do just that, and today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of up to $44 million in funding for farm and farm-related businesses through the program.
Launched in 2001 and administered by USDA’s Rural Business and Cooperative Service, VAPG provides competitive grants to producers for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and marketing efforts to establish viable value-added food and fiber businesses.
“VAPG helps farmers increase their incomes and create new marketing opportunities for their products, which in turn supports the local economy by creating more jobs in the community,” said Wes King, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “The program has helped thousands of producers grow their businesses and their customer bases through processing and market differentiation, like developing supply networks to turn wheat into flour for local millers and bakers, and through farm-identified marketing, like “Homegrown by Heroes” which help veteran farmers to tell the story behind their farms and products.”
The deadline to submit paper applications is July 1; for electronically submitted applications the deadline is June 24. 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. The congressionally established priorities for the program are projects that expand opportunities for small and mid-sized family farms as well as for beginning, socially disadvantaged, and military veteran farmers and ranchers. Local food marketing is also eligible, including value chains that link farmers to the rest of the food distribution system in a manner that increases the return to the farmer.
“At a time when commodity prices are slumping, exploring value-added opportunities can be a path to a more rewarding and sustainable future,’ said King. “Farmers can increase their share of the consumer food dollar by moving into marketing channels that reward innovation and quality, rather than undifferentiated raw commodities.”
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.”
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,” said NSAC Policy Director Ferd 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,” Hoefner said.
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.
Next week NSAC will release its annual Farmers Guide to the VAPG Program, a unique resource that walks farmers through the program’s application requirements, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes. The Guide will be available for free on the NSAC website: https://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/.
About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net