$102.7 Million Available to Help Expand Specialty Crops

USDA Funding Program to Help Support Local Projects

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

Specialty crop growers in California may be able to use part of the $102.7 million available to support local projects and to help expand markets for specialty crops.

“Every state has agricultural priorities that contribute to the well-being of farm families, consumers and the economic health of rural America,” said Under Secretary Greg Ibach in a recent press release. “These programs target resources to the state, local and regional level where the people who understand the issues best can find solutions that help everyone.”

Resources to be apportioned include:
  • $72.15 million is directed to state departments of agriculture in 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to support farmers growing specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops. States use the grant to fund research, agricultural extension activities and programs to increase demand for agricultural goods of value to farmers in the state or territory.
  • $13.35 million is directed to 49 projects supporting direct producer-to-consumer marketing projects such as farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, roadside stands, and agri-tourism through the Farmers Market Promotion Program.
  • $13.45 million is directed to 44 projects to support the development and expansion of local and regional food businesses to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets through the Local Food Promotion Program.
  • $1.1 million is awarded for nine projects through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program to assist in exploring new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products and to encourage research and innovation aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.

For more information about these programs, visit www.ams.usda.gov

Agritourism in California

UC Davis Experts Help Farmers, Ranchers Profit  in Growing Trend

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

Agritourism is growing in California, along with sales and production of much of the world’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts. More and more people are paying to enjoy the bounty and beauty of California’s farms and ranches by touring peach and cherry farms near Fresno, taking classes in beekeeping, attending festivals devoted to strawberries or attending a host of other activities offered by farmers and ranchers throughout the state.

Many farmers could benefit from agritourism and the added value it brings, but developing successful agritourism operations can be tricky. Experts at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis are helping farmers and others in the agricultural community understand the regulations, permits, insurance, marketing and other considerations needed to succeed.agritourism

“Agritourism operations are more successful when they’re part of a supportive community of tourism professionals, county regulators, agriculture regulations and others,” says Gail Feenstra, ASI’s food, and society coordinator.

Feenstra and her team recently received a $73,000 grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a U.S. Department of Agriculture program, to develop training, resources and peer support for farmers and ranchers considering agritourism. Feenstra is working with Penny Leff, ASI’s statewide agritourism coordinator and team project manager.

Leff led previous projects that offered agritourism education to groups of farmers, ranchers, and others involved in California agritourism. In this new project, Leff is providing comprehensive training to smaller, more targeted groups that will then offer training to others in their community.

“We’re helping farmers and ranchers assess their agritourism potential, whether it be U-pick farming, dinners on the farm, classes or even overnight lodging,” Leff says. “We help navigate everything from zoning ordinances to marketing plans.”

The project’s ultimate goal is to develop at least 24 clusters of vibrant agritourism operations in California that sustain producers, educate visitors and support the economic health of the entire community.

As Leff explained, “Agritourism is an exciting opportunity for farmers, and also for visitors who can learn about and enjoy what farm living has to offer.”

You can learn more about agritourism opportunities at the ASI agritourism website. For more information on upcoming workshops, contact Penny Leff at paleff@ucdavis.edu or call 530-752-5208.

Extended Deadline for USDA Value-Added Producer Grants

TODAY, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Agency announced a two-week extension for grant applications for the Value-Added Producer Grant program. The new grant deadline, April 8, was necessary due to changes to the program included in the 2014 Farm Bill that was recently signed into law.

“Value-Added Producer Grants create jobs and economic growth in rural communities by increasing income and marketing opportunities for farmers and by improving the local economy through job development and retention,” said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). “VAPG also enhances food choices for consumers, helping farmers meet growing demand for high quality, value-added local and regional food products.”

Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding

To help farmers, farm groups, and farm coops understand the program and the current funding cycle, NSAC today re-issued its Farmers’ Guide to Value-Added Producer Grant Funding. The updated free Guide provides helpful hints to improve a producer’s chances of obtaining funding from the highly competitive program and provides clear information on the program’s application requirements, including a step-by-step description of the application and ranking processes.

Veteran Priority Added

The two week extension will allow groups who have already submitted funding applications to revise their proposals if the new farm bill’s addition of returning veteran farmers to the program’s priorities is applicable to their proposal.

Other program priorities include small and medium-scale family farms, beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. “We urge everyone who submitted a VAPG application to make a determination in the coming days as to whether their proposals need to be modified or not,” said Hoefner. “As part of the new farm bill, Congress added a veteran’s preference to a variety of programs, including VAPG, and applicants whose project includes returning veterans will want to highlight that aspect of their project.”

In addition, the 2014 Farm Bill also clarifies that group projects that include more than a single farmer are to be ranked in terms of how well they advance the program’s priorities by the review panels that evaluate all of the proposed projects. USDA will also be implementing this change as part of the current funding round.

“The program will function better with the new approach for determining which group project proposals best contribute to advancing the congressional-mandated priorities for small and mid-sized family farms and for beginning, minority, and veteran farmers.” commented Hoefner. “We applaud USDA for implementing this provision and the veterans priority as part of the current grant cycle.”

Second Grant Round This Year Possible

Congress appropriated $13.8 million in fiscal year 2013 and $15 million in fiscal year 2014 for VAPG. Both sums will be added together for this current grant round. Whether USDA awards the entire combined amount, or something less than that, will depend on the quality of the proposals received.

In addition to the $15 million in appropriated funds for fiscal year 2014, the 2014 Farm Bill also provides the program with $63 million in funding that can be used over the course of the next five years. USDA may decide to use a portion of the $63 million in a second grant round later this year; final decisions are pending.

“We are pleased USDA is combining two years’ worth of appropriations in this grant round, and that they are considering a possible second round later this year,” said Hoefner. “This will allow Rural Development to catch up and hopefully get back on a normal year-by-year grant cycle beginning in 2015.”

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.