U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, today announced federal support for Michigan Sugar Company, a cooperative of sugar beet producers, and Vandenberg Farms, a farm in Imlay City. The grants are awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture Value-Added Producer Grant initiative to help farmers and growers develop marketing strategies for agricultural commodities. Rural development funds are used for business plans, working capital for marketing value-added products, and for farm-based renewable energy projects.
Chairwoman Stabenow said, "Michigan agriculture is strong and expanding five times faster than the general economy. From food processing and manufacturing to farming and marketing, Michigan's agriculture industry is extremely wide ranging. Our agriculture sector brings in more than $71 billion a year and supports one out of every four jobs in the state. We are poised to continue building on that success and creating jobs here in Michigan, and the fruit and vegetable farmers are leading that charge."
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, "In his State of the Union Address, President Obama laid out a blueprint for an economy that's built to last and that vision involves exploiting core opportunities for economic growth. USDA, through this program, is acting as a catalyst for business development and job creation in rural America."
Fruits and vegetables, also known in agriculture policy terms as "specialty crops," play a major role in Michigan agriculture. With the exception of California, Michigan leads the nation in crop diversity, growing and producing more than 200 unique commodities. Chairwoman Stabenow championed the development of the first ever specialty crops title in the 2008 Farm Bill, providing specialty crop growers for the first time assistance with pest and disease prevention, organic research, and trade assistance for growers hurt by new trade deals. The specialty crops title also strengthened the value-added producer initiative to help family-farms like Vandenberg Farms and the members of the Michigan Sugar Company cooperative.
Located in Bay City, Michigan Sugar Company is a cooperative with 855 members and 49 non-member independent producers. Michigan Sugar Company will receive $300,000. This will fund a project to market geographically and expand their customer base of powdered and brown sugar processed from their members sugar beets. This expansion will also give the cooperative the ability to produce larger 4 and 7 pound bags, which are demanded by many retail and food service customers. Last month, Chairwoman Stabenow spoke at the Michigan Sugar Company's annual meeting.
Amy VanDenBerg owns Vandenberg Farms in Imlay City. The farm will be receiving $298,788. These funds will be used on a project to begin to process raw onions into a peeled, cooled and refrigerator packaged product, to be sold at 10 new retail sites.