By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.


WASHINGTON, June 29 — USDA is accepting grant applications to assist small, socially disadvantaged agricultural producers and cooperatives in rural areas to spur job creation.


"The Obama Administration is working to help small-scale producers add profit and efficiency to their operations so they can grow, thrive and create jobs," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "These investments will provide small business owners with the assistance they need to serve their communities and train a new generation of rural Americans."


Almost $3.5 million in grants are available through USDA Rural Development's Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant Program (SSDPG), which was authorized in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill). It is part of the Department's ongoing effort to expand outreach to rural residents to ensure that all communities have equal access to USDA programs and services.


Funding is available to cooperatives or associations of cooperatives where at least 75 percent of the governing board or membership are small, socially disadvantaged producers. Grants can be used for product improvements, business plan development or economic development activities. The maximum grant award per applicant is $200,000.


The grants assist eligible producers like Frank Taylor who returned home after college and established the Winston County Self-Help Cooperative in Mississippi, a consortium of local farmers that pool their resources to receive training in business development, conservation and health.


The Cooperative also has a youth program, which teaches skills to the next generation of Winston County farmers. For the last four years, Winston County Self-Help Cooperative, whose motto is "Saving Rural America," has received USDA funding to expand operations into the surrounding counties of central Mississippi. For more information about the success of this Cooperative, visit Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Cheryl Cook's blog post.


In southeastern Minnesota, with the help of an SSDPG, the Hillside Farmers Co-op of Northfield assisted Latino farmers by partnering with established farmers who, together, are committed to producing sustainable foods and building healthier communities. The co-op pairs immigrant families with established farmers in the area who rent out their land for gardening and poultry production.


The SSDPG awarded in 2010, is helping the co-op conduct a feasibility study, develop a business plan, provide training and help pay for other related expenses in developing a coordinated network of local businesses in the free-range poultry industry. This is the first SSDPG awarded in Minnesota.


Applications for Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grants are due August 15, 2011. Application materials may be obtained at the Rural Development website or by contacting the USDA Rural Development State Office. For additional information, see the June 29, 2011, Federal Register.




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