Farmers, ranchers and rural businesses are being encouraged to apply for grant and loan funding through two of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development programs — the Value-Added Producer Grant Program and the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program, according to Kay Lynn Tettleton, LSU AgCenter community development agent.

The deadlines are May 16 and May 18.

“Even if you don’t think you can make the deadline for this year, start planning for next year,” said Judy Meshe, business and cooperative specialist for the USDA.

Meshe spoke on the Value-Added Producer Grants Program, which can help farmers and independent producers fund planning activities and provide working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products. Her message was one of several at an LSU AgCenter-sponsored workshop at the Scott Research and Extension Education Center in Winnsboro, La. The deadline for these grants is May 16.

Examples of projects funded the last four years include a goat farmer who wanted to sell the meat to ethnic groups and needed a marketing plan; a soybean farmer who wanted a feasibility study for grinding beans for energy production; a peach farmer who wanted to market throughout the country and needed working capital, a Web site, brochures and labels; and a sugarcane farmer who needed a study on converting his stalks to an additive for ethanol, Meshe said.

The second USDA program is for renewable energy and energy efficiency. This can help farmers and small businesses finance renewable energy systems or make energy improvements, said Kevin Boone, renewable energy coordinator for the USDA. May 18 is the deadline, he said.

Only one Louisiana project has been funded. “We are not proud of that. We need to step up to get additional applications,” Boone said.

That project was a Sabine Parish poultry farmer who modeled a similar Mississippi application that reduced energy costs and increased production.

“Biomass is plentiful in Louisiana,” Boone said. “Biomass is any organic material available on a renewable or recurring basis and includes agricultural crops, trees grown for energy production, wood waste and residues, aquatic plants and grasses included in the energy matrix, fibers and animal wastes. But landfills do not qualify.”

Bayou Wood Products in West Monroe recently secured a $4.9 million loan guarantee for a renewable energy plant, Boone said. Bayou Wood Products will use the funds to build a facility that will turn wood waste products into an alternative fuel source. It will take wood scraps and other waste and turn them into wood pellets to be used as a heat source for wood-burning stoves. The facility is expected to produce 60,000 tons of pellets per year.

“The bioenergy arena is so new, but the bottom line is the project must be of commercial nature, not in the pilot stage,” Boone said.

He said potential applications include cattle operators in remote areas who want to use solar energy to run pumps. The deadline for the loan guarantee application is July 2.

For more information on the loan and grant programs, visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov or contact Tettleton at (318) 267-6721.