Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA is accepting grant applications to assist small, socially disadvantaged agricultural producers and cooperatives in rural areas to spur job creation.
"The funding we are announcing today represents USDA's continuing investment in providing small business owners with the assistance they need to improve their business operations, and serve their communities by creating economic opportunity for residents and training new generations of rural Americans to succeed in business," said Vilsack. "The Obama administration is working to help these small-scale producers add profit and efficiency to their operations so they can grow, thrive and create jobs."
For fiscal year 2012, approximately $3 million in grants are available through USDA Rural Development's Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant Program (SSDPG), which was authorized in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill). It is part of the Department's ongoing effort to expand outreach to rural residents to ensure that all communities have equal access to USDA programs and services. Funding is available to cooperatives or associations of cooperatives where at least 75 percent of the governing board or membership are small, socially disadvantaged producers. Grants can be used for product improvements, business plan development or economic development activities. The maximum grant award per applicant is $175,000.
The grants assist eligible producers like the people of Winston County, Mississippi, who face many of the same problems as other rural communities across the nation: declining population, rising prices, and family farmers in need of capital, business tools, and new markets for their products. In 2010, the Winston County Self-Help Cooperative applied for and received a $200,000 Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant to continue the work they started with local producers in the community. The co-op works with a consortium of local farmers that pool their resources to receive training in business development, conservation, health, and other topics of concern. The cooperative also has a youth program, which teaches vital skills to the next generation of Winston County farmers.
In southwestern Minnesota, the Hillside Farmers Co-op has some big goals for Latino farmers in the region. With the help of a $200,000 Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant from USDA in 2010, Hillside Farmers Co-op took another step toward reaching some of those goals. Hillside Farmers Co-op includes Latino immigrants and established farmers in southeastern Minnesota that are committed to sustainable foods and building healthier communities. Immigrant families are matched with established area farmers who rent out their land for gardening and poultry production. The grant will help the co-op conduct a feasibility study, develop a business plan, provide training and help pay for other related expenses in developing a network of Latino-owned businesses in the free-range poultry industry. Many Latino families have strong backgrounds in rural living and agriculture. Hillside Farmers Co-op hopes to tap into that valuable experience to develop small-scale sustainable farms that are competitive in a regional economy. The project also aims to help Latino families increase income, improve their community, eat healthier and develop valuable leadership skills.
Applications for USDA Rural Development's Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grants are due July 24. Application materials may be obtained at the Rural Development website http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/ or by contacting the nearest USDA Rural Development State Office. For additional information, see the April 25, 2012, Federal Register, page 24678, or click here http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-04-25/html/2012-9997.htm
In 2011, the President signed an Executive Order establishing the first White House Rural Council chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. In order to better coordinate Federal programs and maximize the impact of Federal investment, the White House Rural Council will work throughout government to create policies to promote economic prosperity and a high quality of life in our rural communities.
Since taking office, President Obama's Administration has taken historic steps to improve the lives of rural Americans, put people back to work and build thriving economies in rural communities. From proposing the American Jobs Act to establishing the first-ever White House Rural Council -- chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack -- the President is committed to using Federal resources more efficiently to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.
USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business and community infrastructure and facility programs through a national network of state and local offices. Rural Development has an active portfolio of more than $165 billion in loans and loan guarantees. These programs are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural areas.