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Value-Added Grants Boost 21st Century Pioneers


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Blessed with abundant natural resources, Iowa's rich agricultural landscape has helped anchor the state's economy and feed the world's growing population for generations.

Responsible environmental stewardship and a sterling work ethic practiced by generations of family farmers have helped earn Iowa-grown farm commodities a solid reputation for wholesome goodness at affordable prices.

As quality-conscious consumers become even more conscientious about the foods they eat and serve their families, a lucrative opportunity is presenting itself in Iowa's countryside. Beginning farmers and long-established family farming operations looking to diversify stand ready to respond to an emerging market demand for locally grown, fresh-off-the-farm meats, cheeses and produce.

As the only working family farmer on the Senate Agriculture Committee, I put my seniority and first-hand farm experience to work at the policymaking tables in Washington, D.C.

As work ramps up on drafting the new farm bill, I'm laying the groundwork to beef up public policy that helps renewable energy entrepreneurs and specialty farmers in the Grain Belt to move their ideas from the drawing board into a prosperous enterprise.

In 2000, I worked to create the Value Added Producers Grant Program that provides funding for planning expenses and working capital to help Iowans get their value-added agriculture products to market. I'm proud this producer-oriented program has given Iowans a much-needed boost to help get innovative products off the ground. In fact, 102 applicants in Iowa have been awarded more than $19 million in matching grants to jump-start their entrepreneurial enterprise. Projected job creation attributable to Value Added Producers Grant funding in Iowa is nearly 800. The annual payroll created to date by Iowa recipients is roughly $8 million. Projected payroll exceeds $20 million.

From marketing organic pork to on-farm bio-diesel production and cooperative winery operations, individual farmers and farmer-owned cooperatives have been able to leverage their resources through Value Added Producers Grants to participate in the new and emerging agricultural markets that hold so much promise for Iowa farmers.

Just consider Crosswind Energy. It received a planning grant in 2005. The grant funds were used for a small wind feasibility study in Palo Alto County. Owned by 10 independent producers, Crosswind Energy has erected ten wind turbines and will generate and sell electricity in the very near future.

In 2003, a hardworking farm family in Woodward moved forward to add value to their farm-fresh dairy products and capture a greater return from the marketplace. The family built an on-site bottling plant and country store to sell hormone- and antibiotic-free milk, cream, butter, cheese and ice cream. The Picket Fence Creamery today is the only Iowa dairy farm to milk the cows, bottle the milk and sell it on-site. With a Value Added Producers Grant awarded in 2004, the creamery expanded its marketing operations and currently sells its dairy products, meats, seasonal fruits and vegetables and handmade crafts on-site and in local grocery stores.

More success stories can be told from the numerous ethanol and plant-based energy production projects the Value Added Producers Grant program supports annually through matched grants to farmer-owned Iowa cooperatives and companies.

Long recognized as America's breadbasket, Iowa's agricultural horizon reaches beyond conventional boundaries as farmers diversify into emerging market ventures, including renewable energy and organic food production.

Enterprising farmers and local investors across Iowa are collaborating to add value to their crops, bring good-paying jobs to their hometowns, boost the local economy and reduce dependence on foreign petroleum.

The federal Value Added Producers Grant program provides cost-effective seed money to help fertilize rural-based, value-added business ventures that allow family farmers to reach for new frontiers and capitalize on diversification opportunities.

The investments awarded so far to 100-plus farmer-owned Iowa businesses are on track to generate economic growth in our rural communities for years to come. Interested Iowans can contact their local farm service agency to learn more about eligibility and how to apply.

As Iowa's senior U.S. Senator, I will continue to champion the Value Added Producers Grant program and scout for more opportunities at the policymaking tables in Washington that will boost homegrown renewable energy, tailor a wholesome food supply to meet consumer demand and promote prosperity for the modern day pioneers who choose to live, work and raise a family in rural America.

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