Other Ag News: Funding available for rural farmers and cooperatives

Wednesday, March 29, 2023 - 11:13am

On March 17, 2023, USDA Rural Development announced the availability of at least $31 million in total funding for Value-Added Producer (VAPG) projects and $3 million for Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant (SDGG). The application window to apply is now open. 

Online applications will be accepted until May 11 for VAPG and May 16 for SDGG through grants.gov. Additional information on paper application deadlines is below. We encourage all readers to help get the word out to qualified individuals and groups.

Value-Added Producer Grants

The VAPG program offers critical annual funding opportunities to farmers and their local economies. Value-added products bring in higher prices than raw products alone, helping farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines and grow their businesses – which in turn increases hiring and spending in their local communities!

The term “value-added” includes foods or goods made from raw agricultural products that (a) have undergone a change in physical state, (b) were produced, marketed, or segregated (i.e., identity preserved, eco-labeling) in a manner that enhances its value or expands the customer base of the product, or (c) were aggregated and marketed as a locally-produced food. Expanding to value-added production can be time and resource intensive, which is why VAPG continues to be an impactful program that offers opportunities to kickstart new, or expand existing, value-added operations.

VAPG basics

VAPG is a subprogram of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) that provides competitive grants to individual, independent agricultural producers, groups of independent producers, producer-controlled entities, organizations representing agricultural producers, and farmer or rancher cooperatives, to create or expand value-added producer-owned businesses. 

Priority is given to projects that increase opportunities for small and mid-sized family farms, and for beginning, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

There are two types of grants awarded through VAPG:

  1. Planning projects provide grants of up to $75,000 for economic planning activities such as the development of business and marketing plans and feasibility studies needed to establish viable marketing opportunities for value-added products.
  2. Working capital projects are directly related to the processing and/or marketing of value-added products with a maximum award amount of $250,000. In general, applications with requests of $50,000 or more must be supported by an independent feasibility study and business plan.
Who is eligible?
  • Independent, individual agricultural producers
  • Groups of agricultural producers
  • Majority-controlled producer-based business ventures
  • Farmer or rancher cooperatives

Read more about the eligibility criteria in the VAPG section of NSAC’s Grassroots Guide.

Matching fund requirements

The matching fund requirements for the 2023 cycle will return to levels from FY2020. All applicants will be required to demonstrate 50% matching funds. Matching funds may be in the form of cash or eligible in kind contributions.

Tribal applicants may use funding from grants made available through the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 for matching funds.

Resources and tools for applying
  • USDA has also created a “toolkit” for applicants, which includes an application checklist, templates, required grant forms, and instructions (this can be found under the “To Apply” tab).
How do I apply?

More information can be found on USDA’s VAPG grant page, where you will find toolkit guides for both grant projects, required documentation, and steps on preliminary actions your operation should take prior to submitting an application. 

It is highly recommended that you get in touch with your USDA Rural Development state office’s Business Program Specialist to walk through your project and see if it is a good fit for the program. Find state contacts here.

When is the deadline?

Paper applications: All materials for paper applications must be submitted and/or postmarked by May 16, 2023 to be considered for this funding cycle. 

Electronic applications: All materials must be submitted via http://www.grants.gov and be received before Midnight EST on May 11, 2023.

You may also opt to submit your application via email or in-person at your local field office. In-person submissions must be done before the close of business, local time on May 16, 2023. 

Contact your State Rural Development Office with any questions.

USDA photo by Bob Nichols Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant

Rural Cooperative Development Grants were established to provide technical assistance to individuals or businesses to create or expand rural cooperatives, including, but not exclusively, food and farming cooperatives. In 2014, Congress created a set-aside within the program to provide funding for targeted assistance for “socially disadvantaged groups,” which created the Socially Disadvantaged Groups Grant (SDGG). For the purpose of this opportunity, socially disadvantaged groups means a group whose members have been subject to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of their identity.

SDGG basics

The purpose of the program is to fund cooperatives and cooperative development centers to provide technical assistance in rural areas in the form of: 

  • Feasibility studies, 
  • Business plans,
  • Strategic planning,
  • And leadership training. 

The maximum award amount is $175,000 and its duration is for one year. There are no matching funds required for this opportunity.

Who is eligible?
  • Cooperative development centers 
  • Individual cooperatives
  • Groups of cooperatives that either serve socially disadvantaged groups or the majority of their governing body identify as members of socially disadvantaged groups
Eligible areas

Generally applicants and technical assistance activities eligible for this funding opportunity are restricted to rural areas with populations of no more than 50,000 individuals. However, the 2023 omnibus appropriations package prioritized a set of funds to serve persistent poverty counties. With this priority, it also expanded the eligible county areas to include persistent poverty counties with populations up to 55,000 individuals. 

Persistent poverty counties are defined as “any county that has had 20 percent or more of its population living in poverty over the past 30 years, as measured by the 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses, and 2007-2011 American Community Survey 5-year average, or any territory or possession of the United States.”

How do I apply?

For more information visit USDA’s SDGG grant page, where you will find an application checklist, template, and frequently asked questions. 

It is highly recommended that you get in touch with your USDA Rural Development state office’s Business Program Specialist to walk through your project and see if it is a good fit for the program. Find state contacts here.

When is the deadline?

All materials must be submitted via https://www.grants.gov and be received before 4:30 pm EST on May 16, 2023.

Mandatory registrations As part of larger efforts to streamline federal grant making processes, applicants of either opportunity must obtain a Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) number and be registered and maintain registration in the federal System for Awards Management (SAM). Previously, an applicant had to obtain a Dun and Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and separately maintain a SAM registration. 

The UEI is assigned by SAM as part of the registration process and replaces the DUNS number. To register with SAM and receive a UEI, go to https://www.sam.gov/ SAM/. 

The process is fairly straightforward, but it can take 3 to 5 weeks before a new SAM registration is active and valid. Therefore, it is highly recommended that this is one of the first steps a prospective applicant takes. NSAC’s Legacy of Advocacy

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) helped create VAPG as part of the 2000 Agricultural Risk Protection Act. For more than twenty years, NSAC has been one of the leading advocates for VAPG and other programs that support local food systems and rural development. 

Since the 2002 Farm Bill, NSAC has successfully advocated to strengthen VAPG and expand the program to include support for organic products, sustainable livestock niche markets, local food enterprises and food supply networks. These changes have advanced growth in sustainable agricultural practices and regional food economies to connect producers to new market opportunities. NSAC also worked with Congress to secure program priorities for small and mid-size family farms, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and returning veteran farmers. 

During the 2018 Farm Bill, NSAC successfully championed efforts to reauthorize VAPG through a new umbrella program, the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), which combined VAPG with the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and provided both programs with permanent mandatory funding. Although VAPG now has permanent mandatory funding as part of LAMP, VAPG funding levels are a fraction of what they were under the 2002 Farm Bill and are insufficient to meet program demand.

As we head into 2023 Farm Bill discussions, NSAC is working with Congress to reduce barriers for applicants by scaling match requirements for producers and expanding overall access to VAPG by increasing total funding for LAMP. For more about NSAC’s priorities for local food systems and rural development, see the 2023 Farm Bill Platform

The post Funding available for rural farmers and cooperatives appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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