(USDA news release — October 27) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week announced that USDA is providing more than $45 million to help farmers, ranchers, small businesses and entrepreneurs nationwide develop new product lines. USDA is investing in 325 projects through the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.
"Value-Added Producer Grants are one of USDA's most sought-after funding sources for veteran and beginning farmers, and rural-based businesses," Vilsack said. "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 – the unemployment rate in rural America is at an eight-year low and 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."
VAPG grants can be used to develop new product lines from raw agricultural products or promote additional uses for established products. Veterans, socially-disadvantaged groups, beginning farmers and ranchers, operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches, and farmer and rancher cooperatives are given special priority.
USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Sam Rikkers announced the grants on Vilsack's behalf during a visit to Leffel Roots, LLC in Eau Claire, Wis. Leffel is receiving a $22,530 value-added 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 Guinda, Calif., Riverdog Farm is receiving a $183,946 grant to increase the processing of pork into bacon, sausage, ham and packaged pork cuts. These products will expand the farm's operation at farmers markets and at its own farm stand. Fifer Orchards Inc. in Camden Wyoming, Del., has been selected for a $250,000 grant to expand marketing efforts to process, package and receive apples for the family-owned orchard. Fifer sells its produce through its farm and country store, at farmers markets, and wholesale to schools, restaurants and grocery stores.
USDA has awarded 1,441 VAPG awards since 2009, totaling $183 million. Congress increased funding for the program in the 2014 Farm Bill. The grants are a key element of USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which coordinates the Department's work on local and regional food systems. Secretary Vilsack has identified local and regional food systems as a key component of rural economic development.
In 2014, Woodward Canyon Family Farm, LLC in Lowden, Wash., received a $200,000 VAPG grant to process wheat into flour. Rather than sell its wheat as a raw product, the family farm processes it into flour that it sells to bakers, restaurants and the public. Woodward Canyon has already exceeded forecasted sales.
This funding builds on USDA's historic investments in rural America over the past seven years. USDA has worked to strengthen and support rural communities and American agriculture, an industry that supports one in 11 American jobs, provides American consumers with more than 80 percent of the food we consume, ensures that Americans spend less of their paychecks at the grocery store than most people in other countries, and supports markets for homegrown renewable energy and materials.