USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today 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 says. “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% 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, WI. 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 says. “Wisconsin businesses like Leffel Roots and Bee Forest are creating jobs and growing local economies with their innovative ideas and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Fifer Orchards Inc. in Camden Wyoming, DE, 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.