May 8, 2015
Washington, DC, May 8, 2015 – In conjunction with today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture inviting applications for funding through the Farm Bill’s Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) Program, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is releasing a new, updated version of its Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding.
In addition to the $30 million notice of funding availability for 2015, USDA also today released the final rule for the VAPG program incorporating changes from the 2014 Farm Bill. NSAC’s newly updated VAPG Guide includes those farm bill changes while also providing helpful hints to improve a producer’s chances of obtaining funding from the highly competitive program.
The Guide provides clear information on the program’s application requirements, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes. The Guide is available for free on the NSAC website: https://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/.
Administered by USDA Rural Development, the VAPG program since 2001 has provided competitive grants to producers and producer groups to acquire working capital or to fund business and marketing plans, as well as feasibility studies needed to establish viable value-added businesses.
As a long time champion of the VAPG program, NSAC fought for its inclusion in the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act. Since its enactment, NSAC has successfully worked during subsequent farm bills and appropriations bills to maintain a strong funding base and expand its mission to include a strong focus on small and mid-sized agriculture, increased attention to creating opportunity for beginning, minority, and veteran farmers, inclusion of organic food and farming as well as grass-fed and other niche, sustainable livestock and dairy products, dedicated funding for mid-tier value chains, and an emphasis on local and regional food enterprises.
“VAPG creates jobs in rural communities by increasing income and marketing opportunities for farmers and by improving the local economy through job development and retention,” said Ms. Eugene Kim, an NSAC Policy Specialist. “VAPG also enhances food choices for consumers, providing the high quality products increasingly in demand, while helping improve farm viability for new farmers.”
Individual farms as well as groups of producers and producer-controlled coops and businesses are eligible to apply for either planning grants or working capital grants. For this grant cycle, $10.2 million is available from the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations bill, with most of the balance coming from direct funding provided by the 2014 Farm Bill. The proposal deadline is July 7, 2015 (or July 2 if submitting the application electronically).
“Ideally, the notice of funding availability would be released each year in time to give farmers the three winter months to put together and submit their proposals,” said Ferd Hoefner, NSAC Policy Director. “This year’s timing, coming at the busiest time of the farming year and with just a 60 day turn around time, is unfortunate. We nonetheless applaud USDA for keeping up the pressure that was needed to get the rule and funding notice through the White House review process. The release during planting season and the short turn around time makes it doubly important for farmers to use NSAC’s Guide as a quick starting point for general reference before starting in on a proposal.”
The funding notice is also coming too late in the year for USDA to implement the two 10 percent funding set-asides provided for in the Farm Bill for projects benefiting beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and for projects in which farmers participate in regional value chain projects. Those set-asides expire on June 30, a week prior to the application deadline. Projects that would have qualified for the set-aside can still compete in the main funding pool, however.
“The Administration has again failed — we hope for the very last time — to release the program in time to honor the statutory set-asides,” noted Hoefner.
In addition to adding veteran farmers to the priority categories for VAPG, the 2014 Farm Bill also clarifies that group projects that include more than a single farmer are to be ranked in terms of how well they advance the program’s priorities by the reviewers who evaluate the proposed projects. USDA will also be implementing this change via the final rule and as part of the current funding round.
“The new approach for determining which group project proposals best contribute to advancing the congressional-mandated priorities for small and mid-sized family farms and for beginning, minority, and veteran farmers is an important step forward,” commented Kim. “We are pleased to see this 2014 Farm Bill change beginning to be implemented, though we will be submitting substantial comments to USDA during the public comment period on the new rule on how to make it significantly more effective.”
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.