The USDA is accepting grant applications from qualified non-profit organizations and educational facilities to help rural cooperatives develop new markets for their products and services.

"This funding is part of the Obama administration's effort to ensure the development of a rural economy built to last,” saidAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.“This program supports business development services for rural cooperatives. These funds will promote start up, expansion and operational improvements as cooperatives work to grow and strengthen their businesses and provide sustainable, well-paying jobs to rural residents.”

USDA is offering Rural Cooperative Development Grants (RCDG) to non-profit corporations and institutions of higher education. The grants may be used to conduct feasibility studies, create business plans, help rural cooperatives develop markets and provide training for cooperative leadership. Grants are awarded competitively on an annual basis to Rural Cooperative Development Centers, which in turn provide technical assistance to individuals and cooperatives.

Through this notice, USDA may award up to $6.5 million in grants. The deadline for paper applications is July 15, 2013. Electronic copies are due July 10, 2013. For information on how to apply, see page 30848 of the May 23, 2013 Federal Register, or contact the USDA Rural Development State Office.

Individual grants of up to $200,000 are available. Grants may be used to pay for up to 75 percent (95 percent when the applicant is a 1994 Land Grant Institution) of the project's cost. Recipients are required to match 25 percent (5 percent for 1994 Land Grant Institutions) of the award amount.

The RCDG program and other USDA business and cooperate development programs have had a significant impact on rural communities. Business and cooperative program funding created or saved an estimated 53,000 rural jobs and helped almost 10,000 rural business owners or farmers improve their enterprises in 2012.

For example, in Dennison, Minn., the Food Co-op Initiative (FCI) received a $175,000 Rural Cooperative Development Grant in 2012 to support the start-up of retail food cooperatives throughout the United States. Using a specially designed development model, FCI works to enable a faster and more efficient start-up process to develop new retail grocery co-ops that create local jobs and establish new markets for local producers. FCI works with cooperatives to assist them in getting established by providing valuable resources and guidance. The organization has leveraged RCDG funds to establish a national client focus with more than 350 food co-op organizers. FCI has used RCDG funds to assist in organizing 10 food co-ops in rural areas. The center has also sponsored regional training for new food co-ops as well as developing business tools and educational resources.