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USDA Now Accepting Applications for Value-Added Producer Grants

May 8, 2015


Whether enabling dairy farmers to expand their line of product offerings or helping farm families start businesses for unique products or providing capital for the creation of farm-identity preserved regional supply chains, the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program has been helping thousands of farmers around the country expand their customer base and income by creating new or developing existing value-added businesses.

Today, May 8th , the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the availability of $30 million in funding through the competitive VAPG Program. The deadline to submit paper applications is July 7. Electronic applications submitted through grants.gov are due July 2.

In conjunction with the announcement, and in order to assist producers with the application process, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has released an updated version of our Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding.

First released in 2012 and revised with each successive announcement of VAPG funds available, the updated NSAC Guide is available as a free download online. It provides helpful hints to improve a producer’s chances of obtaining funding from the highly competitive program, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes.

Administered by USDA Rural Development, the VAPG program provides competitive grants to producers for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and 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.

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.

According to USDA, during the most recent funding cycle (2013-2014) nearly half of VAPG awards went to farmers and ranchers developing products for the local food sector. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has identified local and regional food systems as one of the four pillars of rural economic development.

Also today, USDA published its final rule for VAPG, which modifies the interim rule that was published on February 23, 2011, and incorporates changes to VAPG from the 2014 Farm Bill and the USDA listening session held on April 25, 2014.

An NSAC press release on the announcement of VAPG funds available and the publication of the final rule is available here. 

We will be publishing a separate blog post next week on the VAPG rule itself, and subsequently will be asking members and readers to submit public comment to USDA to fix the multitude of serious problems in the rule released in the Federal Register today.

Changes to VAPG Request for Application

A few changes worth noting for this year’s RFA are:

  • Recognizing 2014 Farm Bill changes and April listening session comments by providing priority ranking points for group projects that best contribute to creating or increasing marketing opportunities for one or more of the priority groups — small and mid-sized family farms and beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers;
  • Expanding the definition of mid-tier value chain to now include local and regional supply networks that link independent producers directly through the supply chain to consumers (and not just with businesses and cooperatives that then market value-added agricultural products); and
  • Clarifying that for projects submitted by beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers through one of two 10-percent funding set-aside categories, proposals must have 100 percent of the members be beginning farmers or ranchers or socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers.

Additionally, for this grant cycle, USDA is particularly encouraging projects that are based in or serving census tracts with poverty rates greater than or equal to 20 percent. Last year, USDA emphasized food hubs, bio-based products, and tribal projects.

Background

NSAC helped create the program as part of the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act and helped to expand and strengthen the program as part of the 2002 Farm Bill to include organic products and sustainable livestock niche markets.

NSAC also campaigned for improvements to the program made in the 2008 Farm Bill, including a consideration of local food enterprises and food supply networks linking farm to table, plus program priorities for assisting small and mid-size family farms as well as beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

In the 2014 Farm Bill, NSAC successfully campaigned to have Congress clarify how program priorities are to be assessed and to add returning veteran farmers as a new program priority category. The 2014 bill also provided $63 million in mandatory (direct) farm bill funding for VAPG to supplement the annual appropriation the program receives.

The current $30 million in funding available combines $10.2 million in discretionary funds from the FY 2015 appropriations bill with a portion of the 2014 Farm Bill funding.

For fiscal year (FY) 2016, NSAC is working to secure $15 million in discretionary funding for VAPG . Read more about NSAC’s involvement with the FY 2016 Budget and Appropriations process here.


Categories: Farm Bill, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Rural Development


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