Sometimes, farm profitability is just one value-added step away. Lots of farmers have the great ideas, but they lack the support to get there.
On February 5th, the Maryland Agricultural Marketing Professionals (AMPs) met to discuss how to help farmers can take their products to the next level and I got to sit in. We heard from Jeff Williams, Program Specialist at Rural Business-Cooperative Service (Jeff.Williams2@de.usda.gov) and he filled us in on USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant. Last year, Maryland farmers did well, garnering $2 million out of $21 million in grant money available across the U.S. However, ten good Maryland farms were not successful, so Jeff advised the AMPs what farmers should know to improve their chance of success.
He said that the 50 page application may seem daunting but it is intended to provide all the necessary information and advice to compete. Two of the main reasons for failure are requesting non-eligible funds (clearly identified in the application) and weak or incomplete applications and budgets. There is a 50% local match, but there are many ways to meet that requirement.
One option is to seek assistance from the Maryland Agricultural & Resource Based Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO).
Steve McHenry, Executive Director of MARBIDCO, was also a presenter at the AMPs meeting and he goes out of his way to support farmers. For example the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant application notice and deadline varies each year. To assist Maryland farmers who may want to use MARBIDCO funds as a match, he informs farmers that his deadline is 2-weeks prior to the federal deadline, whenever that is. That helps the farmers put together a good draft application (which Jeff Williams is willing to review ahead of time) while he and his staff have time to review the application for a possible MARBIDCO match.
MARBIDCO helps farmers stepping up to value-added in three other ways.
1. Local government Ag/RBI cost share programs. Applications for this program must be submitted by a county or regional economic development director or an agricultural marketing specialist.
2. Maryland Urban Agriculture Commercial Lending Incentive Grants (in municipalities). It is offered with the financial support of Farm Credit and is designed to meet the financing needs of beginning urban farmers by providing an incentive for them to seek commercial lender financing for the development of their agricultural enterprises. The maximum amount of the grant is $7,500.
3. Maryland Value-Added Producer Grants. Capital asset-type projects designed to help farmers, forest product operations, and seafood processors to expand or diversify their business operations.
An announcement for the USDA Value-Added Producer Grant is expected in the next couple of months and you can find out more about MARBIDCO’s grants on it’s website. Value-added dreamers, sharpen your pencils!