USDA’s Value Added Producer Grants Program (VAPG) provides competitive grants to help farmers and ranchers develop high-value, niche markets. With lots of rural and small town support, the Center for Rural affairs worked diligently to keep the program in the 2014 farm bill. But attention must be paid making program rules work as intended.
The farm bill included four farmer and rancher priority categories: small and mid-sized family farms; beginning farmers; socially disadvantaged farmers; and veteran farmers. It also clarified that projects given priority consideration had to also contribute to these four categories. Under the last farm bill, USDA created a priority for cooperatives regardless of their benefit to legislatively-created priorities.
We recommend that, to best contribute to the small and mid-sized farm or ranch priority, all members of any group project must meet the definition of small and medium-sized to receive priority points. That should be an overarching priority for all of the categories.
Moreover, we recommend that, should USDA decide to allow for group projects in which some members do not meet that definition, they must require that: 1) a solid majority of membership meets the priority definition, 2) they make up a majority of the governing body, and 3) they have a majority role in governance of the project. Otherwise, there is too much potential for creating projects with token investors from priority categories just to obtain VAPG money, diminishing the help provided to the farmers and ranchers for whom it is intended.
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