WASHINGTON, Oct.27, 2016 – USDA today said it will fund 325 projects with $45 million through the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program to help farmers, ranchers, small businesses and entrepreneurs nationwide develop new product lines.
Sam Rikkers, administrator of USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service, announced the grants during a visit to Leffel Roots LLC in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Leffel is receiving a $22,530 grant to develop and market bakery, cider and hard cider products. Another Wisconsin recipient, Bee Forest LLC, a logging and sawmill company in Nelson, is receiving a $250,000 grant to market, process and ship shredded bark and saw dust."Through the Value-Added Producer Grant program, USDA Rural Development invests both in the quality of food and quality of life in rural areas," Rikkers said. "Wisconsin businesses like Leffel Roots and Bee Forest are creating jobs and growing local economies with their innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit."
In a news release, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called VAPGs “one of USDA’s most sought after funding sources” for veteran and beginning farmers and rural-based businesses.
“These grants provide a much-needed source of financing to help producers develop new product lines and increase their income, and keep that income in their communities. Economic development initiatives like this one are working,” Vilsack said, noting that the unemployment rate in rural America is at an eight-year low and that incomes rose 3.4 percent last year. “Small business entrepreneurship, which Value-Added Producer Grants support, is a major reason why rural America is a making a comeback."
Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, welcomed today’s announcement, pointing out that NSAC has been a major champion of the VAPG program since its creation in 2000.
“Value-Added Producer Grants help create small farmer-based businesses that increase farm income, generate good jobs, and improve consumer healthy food choices,” Hoefner said. “VAPG provides producers with the tools they need to grow new enterprises, develop new markets, and create new value chains, which helps small and mid-scale family farms reach the profit margins they need to stay in business.”
Hoefner also commended USDA for ensuring the program has such a wide reach, noting that the 2016 awards were well distributed throughout the country. The North Central region claimed 93 awards, followed by the South with 83, the West with 78, and the North East with 64. By sector, meat and dairy had over 100 projects, followed by fruits and vegetables with over 80, and wine, cider, juices and other beverages with 75.
The awards include over 50 local-food projects, more than 30 involving organic food, a dozen grass-fed meat and pastured poultry and egg projects, and a handful of non-GMO feed grain projects. Food hubs and mid-tier value chain development projects – which connect farmers to the rest of the supply chain in a way that allows farmers to receive a higher percentage of the consumer food dollar – were also funded through VAPG again this year.
Hoefner said USDA projections show that demand for local and regional food will become a $20 billion market by 2019 and that VAPG “is an important resource in building the infrastructure and business and marketing acumen American farmers need to meet the rising demand of this market.”
NASC said the $45.6 million allocated for the fiscal year 2016 awards is the largest single-year award in the program’s history. Approximately $35 million of the total came from the $63 million Congress provided for VAPG in the 2014 farm bill, with the balance coming from annually appropriated funds.
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