March 25, 2014
Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development retroactively announced that the deadline for applications for the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program would be extended by two weeks in order to incorporate a change from the recently enacted 2014 Farm Bill.
Coming over one month from the original February 24 deadline for VAPG applications, the announcement allows the incorporation of a new priority category for veteran farmers and ranchers. Applicants who filed proposals by February 24 may now refile their applications if the new veteran priority applies to their proposal.
Amended proposals are due by April 8.
Up to $27.5 million could be awarded in this funding cycle — the approximately $10.5 million available from the program’s fiscal year 2013 appropriation and the $15 million available from the program’s fiscal year 2014 appropriation. Whether the entire fiscal year 2014 amount is used depends in part on the quality of the proposals received.
With the inclusion of the new category, applicants may now qualify for priority points by falling in one of the following four categories included by Congress in the farm bill: (1) operator of a small or medium-sized family farm or ranch, (2) beginning farmer or rancher, (3) socially disadvantaged farmer or rancher, or (4) veteran farmer or rancher. USDA is also awarding priority points for two other categories for which they have no statutory basis: (1) mid-tier value chain projects, and (2) farmer or rancher cooperative projects.
For the new veteran priority, veteran farmer or rancher is defined as a “farmer or rancher who has served in the Armed Forces” and “(A) has not operated a farm or ranch; or (B) has operated a farm or ranch for no more than 10 years.”
USDA will also be implementing another policy change from the 2014 Farm Bill beginning in this funding round – the clarification on how group applicants may qualify for priority points. Under the current NOFA and before the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted, group applicants seeking priority points were required to meet an all-or-nothing quantitative criteria, either: all operating small and medium-sized family farms or having 51 percent or more of its the members classified as beginning or socially disadvantaged producers.
Under the 2014 Farm Bill, projects to be given priority are those that the project peer review panels determine “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.”
This change will be instituted as the review process takes place for the applications received earlier in February and for any revised proposals received by April 8.
Second NOFA Possible Later this Year
The new 2014 Farm Bill also provides $63 million in mandatory farm bill funding for VAPG over the course of the next five years, or approximately $12.5 million a year. USDA is considering a second NOFA yet this year that might use a portion of the new farm bill funding for an additional grant round.
As Congress begins its work on the fiscal year 2015 USDA appropriations bill, we also expect new funding to be provided for 2015, in addition to the money made available by the farm bill.
At some point later this year, there will also need to be a rulemaking to incorporate the farm bill changes and potentially other changes into the VAPG rules. That rulemaking will be open for public comment.
Farmers’ Guide to VAPG
In conjunction with today’s announcement, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has released a revised version of its Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding. The Guide provides helpful hints to improve a producer’s chances of obtaining funding from the highly competitive program and 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 NSAC’s publications page: http://sustainableagriculture.
NSAC will continue to monitor the VAPG program and work with our member groups and with USDA to help improve the program, especially as farm bill implementation activities progress. From recent USDA farm bill implementation listening sessions, NSAC has learned that a separate listening session on VAPG and the Healthy Food Financing Initiative is expected in May 2014 and will provide details as they become available.
More USDA information on VAPG can be found here.