The USDA has announced that applications are being accepted for grants to provide economic assistance to independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives and agricultural producer groups through the Value-Added Producer Grant Program.

"By creating value-added products, farmers and ranchers can expand economic opportunities, create jobs and keep wealth in rural communities," said Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "These funding opportunities will promote business expansion and entrepreneurship by helping local businesses get access to capital, technical assistance and new markets for their products and services."

For example, in Caroline County, Md., Richard and Wenfei Uva, owners of Seaberry Farm, received a Value-Added Producer Grant to expand their processing capacity to produce beach plum jams and jellies, juice, and puree for retail and wholesale markets. The Beach plum, Prunus maritime, is a native fruiting shrub that grows in coastal sand dunes from southern Maine to Maryland. Seaberry Farm planted three acres of Beach plum in 2006 and will double the acreage in 2011.

Located in Oxnard, Calif., San Miguel Produce is owned by Roy Nishimori and Jan Berk, independent producers of organic and conventional cooking greens. In 2009, they received a Value-Added Producer Grant for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. With this grant, San Miguel Produce has been able to expand markets for their "Cut 'n Clean Green" products and increase revenues.

Application deadline is August 29, 2011. For further details about eligibility rules and application procedures, see the June 28, 2011, Federal Register. Value-Added Producer Grants may be used for feasibility studies or business plans, working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, and agricultural producer groups. Value-added products are created when a producer increases the consumer value of an agricultural commodity in the production or processing stage.

To see a video featuring Merrigan discussing the VAPG program click here.

In June, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing the first WHRC (White House Rural Council) chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. 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, the Obama administration has taken significant steps to improve the lives of rural Americans and has provided broad support for rural communities. The Obama administration has set goals of modernizing infrastructure by providing broadband access to 10 million Americans, expanding educational opportunities for students in rural areas, and providing affordable health care. In the long term, these unparalleled rural investments will help ensure that America's rural communities are repopulating, self-sustaining, and thriving economically.

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 existing portfolio of more than $150 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 America.

Visit http://www.rurdev.usda.gov for additional information about the agency's programs or to locate the USDA Rural Development office nearest you.