Apply for value-added producer grants by January 2018, read about success stories

“Creating and marketing value-added products has the potential to significantly enhance our farm's profitability, but this is no easy task. Our value-added funds will help pay for processing, marketing, distribution, and sales of our pasture-raised chickens and eggs, as well as microgreens that we grow,” said Alex McKiernan, co-owner of Robinette Farms near Lincoln, Nebraska. The farm received a working capital grant in 2015.

Robinette Farms is now packaging and selling microgreens at local grocery stores, often partnering with a distributor and offering tastings to shoppers. Without the assistance of the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program, it would be difficult for small farming operations like Robinette Farms to develop new products and access higher-value markets.

What is the opportunity?

On Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of at least $18 million in funding through the competitive VAPG program.

Administered by USDA Rural Development, the VAPG program provides competitive grants to producers for working capital, feasibility studies, business plans, and marketing efforts used to establish value-added businesses. Up to $75,000 is available for a planning grant, and up to $250,000 is available for an implementation grant. Value-added grants can be used to develop new product lines from raw agricultural products or to promote additional uses for established products.

Who is eligible?

Independent producers, agricultural producer groups, farmer or rancher cooperatives, and majority-controlled, producer-based business ventures are all eligible to apply for these grants.

The program prioritizes funding for applicants who are beginning, veteran farmers and ranchers, or socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches; farmer and rancher cooperatives; and majority-controlled, producer-based business ventures whose projects “best contribute” to creating or increasing marketing opportunities for the aforementioned groups of farmers.

New this year, there are reserved funds for applications that support opportunities for beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and for proposed projects that develop mid-tier value marketing chains, as well as projects located in persistent poverty counties.

Who else has received VAPG funds?

William Powers, who owns and operates Darby Springs Farm in Ceresco, Nebraska, alongside his wife, Crystal, was another recipient of a $50,000 VAPG in 2015. The federal money helped finance construction of a creamery that allows them to make and sell ice cream using milk from their pasture-grazed dairy cows.

“The program is crucial for young entrepreneurs with a cash-flow situation,” William told Huffington Post in a recent interview. “We’re not independently wealthy, so that grant helped us make up some of those upfront payments.”

Darby Springs opened the doors of their microcreamery in August 2017, offering tours and tastings of the ice cream they now make and sell.

Why should I apply?

Nicole Saville, co-owner and operator of Spiritus Vitae Botanicals, a small medicinal herb farm located outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, is eyeing the working capital grant, as well, to assist with marketing and other costs.

“I believe the funding will help us become better at what we love to do, while allowing us the opportunity to get our products into the hands of more people in southeast Nebraska,” she said.

Kathy, who runs a garden to market business with her husband outside of Stanton, Nebraska, was surprised to learn that she could apply for funds. The money could help the business owners better prepare for their local farmers market by funding business supplies, such as a tent, and marketing items, like brochures.

She started off with making jams and jellies from excess produce in the garden. But, after attending a few sessions of the Center’s Rural Food Business Growth project, Kathy told us that she began to learn more and visualize “the bigger picture.”

“Being awarded this grant would give us a boost,” she said. “We could have a real presence at the market, and when I called Rural Development to ask questions, they helped me figure out what I needed most.”

How do I apply?

The best way to get started is to contact your local Rural Development office:

This year’s notice included an extended application period to allow farmers and ranchers time to put together high-quality proposals before and after their busy harvest seasons.

The deadline to submit paper applications is Jan. 31, 2018, and the deadline to submit electronic applications is Jan. 24, 2018. Electronic applications must be submitted through

Additional resources:

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is currently updating their “Farmer’s Guide to Applying for VAPG” and will possibly offer a webinar again this year. Stay tuned for details on their blog.

Nebraska 2015 VAPG program recipients can be found here.

Feature photo: Crystal Powers, co-owner and co-operator of Darby Springs Farm near Ceresco, Nebraska, gives a tour of the microcreamery in August. She and her husband, William, received a $50,000 value-added grant in 2015 to help finance construction of the building. The building features a walk-through milking station and three separate rooms - one for milk, one for ice cream, and one for a store. Read more about Apply for value-added producer grants by January 2018, read about success stories

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Preserving life for the next generation - a guide to barn restoration

Barns. They stand proudly against blue skies along the interstate, a highway, or even a lonely gravel road. Some are the centerpiece of a family farm, often as big or bigger than the old farmhouse near it. Others are modest in size, standing alone in the middle of a field, surrounded by crops, or are shadowed figures hidden by decades of overgrowth on long-abandoned homesteads.

These wooden time capsules are now being replaced by modern, metal versions. Brightly colored machine sheds take up space where many family barns once stood. However, on some farms and ranches, barns that have stood the test of time by providing decades of shelter for livestock and storage for feed can get a new shot a life; a chance to live on for generations to come.

Barn restoration may seem like a tedious undertaking. With the right tools and resources, the task is not only manageable, but also worth the effort to preserve the hard work and dedication of farm and ranch families of the past.

Financial assistance may also be available to aid in this process. Through state and federal tax credits or incentives, you can breathe new life into an old structure.

There are several steps owners must take to be eligible for barn restoration funding.

Declaration of historic significance

Many states will insist your barn be registered with the National Register of Historic Places. Tax credits and incentives only apply to barns or other buildings that have been designated as historic places and produce an income.

To determine where you stand, explore the different options the National Register offers.

Property tax incentives

Most states have an option for property tax incentives. This means your local government has to approve the use of the incentive within that jurisdiction. Your local government and/or state historic preservation office will be able to tell you if you can take advantage of these incentives.


When a restored or rehabilitated building is used for business purposes, depreciation may be claimed to the extent of the taxpayer’s basis in the property, including funds provided by the taxpayer for rehabilitation.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rules state barns are usually depreciable over 20 years. If a credit is claimed, depreciation is generally limited to straight line depreciation, which is the same allowance each year during the 20-year life. Otherwise, it might be possible to step up depreciation to one and one-half times the straight line rate.

Grants and loans for private individuals

Grant and loan programs are very limited for private individuals; however, it’s a good idea to see if you can find any local assistance. Get in touch with your area preservation organization, state historic preservation office, county development office, and/or statewide preservation organization to see if they can help in any way.

Let the restoration begin!

Once these steps are taken, you may be eligible for much-deserved assistance to preserve history and tradition for generations to come!

For additional information and guidance on your restoration journey, the best national resource specifically for barns is the National Barn Alliance.

Local groups that are particularly active and may have funding activities are The Iowa Barn Foundation and Michigan Barn Preservation Network. (A list of other local groups and resources can be found on the National Barn Alliance resource page.)

Other reference sites are National Trust for Historic Preservation and USDA Barn Restoration.

Feature photo: The Kai Family Barn near Pender, Nebraska, was restored in 2014. The barn now serves as an event space. | Photo by Kylie Kai Read more about Preserving life for the next generation - a guide to barn restoration

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DACA recipients are stimulating small towns

Center staff members Jordan Feyerherm and Jordan Rasmussen contributed to this blog.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has provided hard-working young people and their families with a measure of stability. This policy protects individuals who came to this country as children from deportation and allows them to apply for employment authorization.

After DACA was initiated in 2012, recipients’ hourly wages increased by 42 percent. 6 percent started their own business (compared to a national average of 3.1 percent), 21 percent purchased their first car, 12 percent purchased their first home, and 90 percent received their driver’s license or a state identification card. They are a critical part of our country’s social and economic fabric.

Schuyler, Nebraska, population 6,196, had long struggled to attract new residents. Today, the town is more than 70 percent Latino. For this small town and others like it in the U.S., immigrants are keeping shops open and breathing fresh life into main streets.

Now, their future is uncertain.

Nearly 750,000 young people fear losing everything they have worked for. Almost 70 percent came to this country at the age of 10 or younger. Today, the average DACA recipient is 22 years old, employed, and in pursuit of higher education.

To rob these individuals of an opportunity to learn, earn, and live would impair their capacity to contribute. It would be counterproductive and harmful to the country as a whole. It can be debilitating to the communities that helped raise them.

After the Trump Administration’s damning decision, Congress has a responsibility to stand opposed to any federal action that would rescind DACA or result in additional restrictions that would act as barriers to the continued contributions of these young immigrants and their families to rural communities and the U.S.

Legislation promoting safety, well-being, and welcoming will continue to uplift the many young people who want to put their talents to use and give back to the only country they have ever known as home.

Feature photo: Immigrants in small towns across the U.S. are keeping shops open and breathing fresh life into main streets. Columbus, Nebraska (pictured), is just down the highway from Schuyler, population 6,196. Schuyler is more than 70 percent Latino. Read more about DACA recipients are stimulating small towns

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Weekly column

Farm bill conversations: conservation

The Center for Rural Affairs wants to work with you to advocate for conservation in the upcoming 2018 farm bill!

Over the next few months we will share our farm bill priorities with you – beginning with conservation.

We need to protect funding and strengthen working lands conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

What does ‘working lands’ mean?

Working lands conservation programs are specifically designed for actively productive acres, rather than focused on taking land out of production.

What can working lands conservation programs do for you?

Many farmers value good stewardship on their land but struggle to find the funds to integrate conservation practices into their operations.

Working lands conservation programs provide farmers with the financial means and technical assistance to effectively implement various conservation practices on their operation. These programs address specific resource concerns on their land. Some conservation practices supported include cover crops, targeted spraying technology, no-till farming, and wildlife habitat development. These key practices have helped farmers reduce soil erosion, reduce unwanted spray drift, and increase habitat for pollinators and other wildlife on their land.

How can I get involved?

Do you care about EQIP and CSP, and want to see the important work continue? Make a quick call to your legislator’s office to let them know you support these programs. Never called your legislator before? Check out this blog with tips for how to do it. It’s easy!

Not a farmer? That’s OK! You can still call your legislator and let them know you support conservation in the farm bill.

Sign up for farm bill updates. We’ll send action alerts during the next few months. Congress is moving quickly and we’ll let you know when your voice and calls are particularly needed.

We value your input and look forward to advocating for your interests in the upcoming farm bill. If you would like to learn more about our work, give me a call at 402.687.2100 x 1012. Read more about Farm bill conversations: conservation

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Farm bill priorities: conservation

Conservation programs guide farmers and ranchers in improving land soil and water quality.

Maintain the strength of our working lands conservation programs, Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Preserve funding and continue technical assistance support. With these programs, farmers and ranchers can steward their soil and water resources for the next generation without breaking the bank. Read more about Farm bill priorities: conservation

Ag-vocate talks conservation in Washington D.C.

Dustin Farnsworth flew to Washington D.C. this spring to speak with his lawmakers about the importance of conservation programs.

The farmer took part in a National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) “farmer fly-in,” joining growers from Oregon, Mississippi, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Alabama, and Georgia who talked important food and farm issues with their legislators.

Priorities of the “farmer fly-in” included working lands conservation, rural economic development programs, sustainable agriculture research, technical assistance for military, veteran, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and food safety training for small and mid-sized producers.

Dustin owns 400 acres in southwest Iowa. He currently has hogs and cattle, and is converting some corn and soybean acres to organic.

He also participates in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the nation’s largest working lands conservation program by acreage. The program supports farmers, ranchers, and forest owners as they introduce and expand conservation on their land in agricultural production.

In Washington D.C., Dustin joined Anna Johnson, of the Center for Rural Affairs, in a meeting with Rep. David Young. They discussed two important working lands programs, CSP and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Conservation funding provides farmers and ranchers with the tools, training, and financial support they need to protect and conserve natural resources on their land. Programs like CSP and EQIP not only protect the environment, they also help farmers produce more with less and ensure the long-term viability of their lands and waters.

Dustin emphasized to Rep. Young the importance of these programs because they support beginning farmers in implementing conservation practices while farmers run viable businesses.

Does it really make a difference to talk to your legislator?

Dustin visited Washington, D.C. to discuss conservation this spring, several weeks before Congress passed a bill to fund conservation programs for this year. That final bill had good news for conservation: funding for CSP was not cut as it had been in previous years, and while there was a cut to EQIP, it was not as large as in previous years.

Rep. Young sits on a committee that works to decide what funding conservation programs will receive each year. While Dustin’s conversation with him is surely only one of many such conversations he has with constituents, we are grateful he listened to the message: strong conservation programs are needed in Iowa!

You, too, can let your representative and their staff know your concerns and priorities - whether it’s calling an office, attending a town hall meeting, meeting at the county fair, or visiting the state house or Washington D.C. Here are some tips for how to make sure that conversation goes well:

  • Make sure to ask about issues your representative can impact. Rep. Young, for example, can impact funding for federal programs like CSP and EQIP, but has less of a role in deciding issues regarding the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which is a state agency.
  • Plan out three things to say: 1) a thank you for past work; 2) a story about the issue you care about; and 3) an ask for them to act to support your issue of concern.
  • Your ask can go something like this: “Will you support strong funding for working lands conservation programs like EQIP and CSP?”
  • Stay friendly and brief.
  • Be sure to thank them for their time.

Feature photo: Wisconsin farmer Dustin Farnsworth and Anna Johnson met with Rep. David Young (R-IA) to discuss CSP and EQIP. Read more about Ag-vocate talks conservation in Washington D.C.

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Your story

Farm bill priorities: crop insurance

Crop insurance should better serve rural communities. 

Stop allowing taxpayer dollars to go without limit to the largest farmers.

Cap crop insurance subsidies at $50,000. Other public support programs have limits; it makes sense to have limits on crop insurance subsidies, too. Who does this impact? Only 0.9 percent of farmers in 2010 and 2.5 percent of farmers in 2011 received premium subsidies greater than $50,000 and would have been impacted by a cap.

Manage risk through conservation. Read more about Farm bill priorities: crop insurance

Diversified Crops? There's an Insurance Program for That

By Kevin Patrick Allen, Iowa Public News Service, and Mary Kuhlman, Nebraska Public News Service

An alternative to traditional farm insurance is catching the attention of the agricultural community in Iowa and throughout the Midwest. 

In farming - like investing - diversification is encouraged. But farmers who produce additional crops, like watermelons and sweet corn, have often found insurance to be lacking or nonexistent. 

A pilot program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency, known as Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, is helping to change that. Cora Fox, policy program associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, said farms with a minimum of three commodities can receive up to 85 percent coverage - and it isn't only for niche markets and specialty crops. 

"It really rewards diversification on a farm,” Fox said. "So, for something like a major commodity grower, you could have corn, soybeans and wheat and still utilize Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, and get that 85 percent coverage level."

Diversification has been shown to protect soil, improve water quality, reduce the need for pesticides and cut energy usage. Fox said she’s hopeful that Whole-Farm Revenue Protection will prompt more farmers to diversify their operations. 

Kelly Jackson is general manager at Daniels Produce in Columbus, Nebraska. She said her father farmed corn and soybeans until floods in 1982, '83, and '84 prompted his move into the fresh vegetable market. Still, they faced years in which entire crops were lost or insurance would only reimburse them for a pre-determined commodity price that was often lower than the crop's true value. 

"But 'Whole-Farm' goes off of historically what I have produced, and historically what I've sold my product for,” Jackson explained.

The pilot project is aimed not only at protecting the environment and assisting individual farms, but at building more resilient rural communities. Read more about Diversified Crops? There's an Insurance Program for That

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Your stories

We have a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

September 1, 2017

Governor Pete Ricketts
State Capitol
Lincoln, NE 68509

RE: VW Emission Settlement

Dear Governor Ricketts:

The undersigned organizations unequivocally believe that we have a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible as soon as possible.

The Volkswagen diesel emission settlement fund represents an opportunity to make investments that will lead to significant emission reductions in the transportation sector. The $11.5 million allocated to Nebraska also provides major opportunities for economic benefit for Nebraskans as well as benefits for the state and local governments. We respectfully request the following:

  1. Designation of a lead agency for management and disbursement of funds.
  2. Establish a robust and transparent public participation process to gather the best ideas from Nebraskans.
  3. Develop a plan that maximizes emission reductions in the transportation sector. This plan should include a statewide system of electric vehicle charging stations.
  4. Work with our public power districts to increase electrification of transportation.
  5. Support our public power districts’ efforts to increase renewable energy development to further reduce emissions in transportation.
  6. Support the purchase of electric vehicles by the state and political subdivisions. A recent study by the Nebraska Community Energy Alliance found major cost savings from the use of electrical vehicles due to reduced energy and maintenance costs.
  7. Support for leading edge technologies such as battery storage and high-speed charging stations.

The following reasons support our request:

  1. Electric vehicle use is expected to grow exponentially in the next decade, including major investments by GM, Ford, Volvo, Nissan, Toyota, and Mazda in electric vehicle technology, not to mention the groundbreaking products from Tesla. Nebraska should be ready to meet the demand from this trend.
  2. Last week’s total eclipse and the migration of cranes in the spring showcase Nebraska’s role as a tourist destination. Tourism is one of our most important industries; making electric vehicle drivers confident they will not be stranded could provide a major boost for our state.
  3. Cutting edge companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple seek out states and communities that make investments in clean energy and forward-looking technologies like electric vehicles.
  4. Recent reports indicate that Nebraska’s agricultural economy continues to decline. As a result, state and local tax receipts are also down. Proper investment of these funds can help reverse these trends by making Nebraska more attractive to business, reducing government spending, and creating a healthier environment.

We look forward to working with your administration to create a plan that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make Nebraska a regional leader in electric vehicles and help grow our economy.

Kenneth C. Winston
Nebraska Interfaith Power & Light
Director of Policy and Outreach

Nebraska Interfaith Power & Light
Center for Rural Affairs
Sierra Club, Nebraska Chapter
League of Women Voters of Nebraska
Nebraska Wildlife Federation

Feature photo: Last week’s total eclipse showcased Nebraska’s role as a tourist destination. Tourism is one of our most important industries; making electric vehicle drivers confident they will not be stranded could provide a major boost for our state. | Photo by Rhea Landholm Read more about We have a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

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