According to the most recent census of agriculture, there are 6 times more farmers over 65 than under 35. Beginning farmers and ranchers represent a crucial component for the future of agriculture, but they must overcome stern challenges to get started.
Beginning farmers and ranchers can increase the likelihood of success by specializing in the production of value-added products. Value-added commodities can be created by changing the physical state of a commodity; producing, marketing, or segregating a product in a way that enhances its value or customer-base; or aggregating and marketing a crop as locally-produced.
Value-added production may seem a daunting endeavor, especially for beginning farmers and ranchers with limited access to capital. But the USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant can help, giving priority to beginning farmers, small/midsized family farms, and socially disadvantaged farmers. Grants awarded provide up to 50% of the capital needed for a value-added venture (up to $250,000). Additionally, working capital grants (up to $75,000) are also awarded for planning activities (business plans, feasibility studies, marketing plans, etc.) used to establish marketing opportunities for value-added products.
Funded projects vary greatly, including conversion of switchgrass into fuel; marketing of premium applesauce from organically grown apples; and expanding a market for locally-produced, non-GMO, free-range chicken products.
The deadline for online applications is June 24. Paper applications are due July 1. For more information visit: http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/value-added-producer-grants and http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/2016-farmers-guide-to-vapg/ to download the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition VAPG Factsheet.
Feature image: Vinegar from George Paul Vinegar in Cody, Nebraska. Owner George Johnson makes vinegar in Cody, shipping daily to points across the country and around the world. He got started with the help of a USDA Value Added Producer Grant (a program the Center helped write and win). Starting his vinegar business made room for his son to come back and run their ranch.
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