Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that USDA is seeking applications from cooperatives to provide technical assistance to small, socially disadvantaged agricultural producers in rural areas.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. The announcement is one part of the Department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
“These grants will jump start small business hiring and help producers in areas facing economic challenges get the tools they need to succeed,” Vilsack said. “Small businesses are the engines of job growth and innovation in America.”
Funding will be made available through USDA Rural Development’s Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant program (SSDPG). The maximum grant award is $200,000.
The grants assist producers like Frank Taylor who returned home after college and established the Winston County Self-Help Cooperative in Mississippi, a consortium of local farmers that pool their resources to receive training in business development, conservation and health.
The Cooperative also has a youth program, which teaches skills to the next generation of Winston County farmers.
The Winston County Self-Help Cooperative, whose motto is “Saving Rural America,” has received USDA funding to expand operations into the surrounding counties of central Mississippi.
The SSDPG and other USDA business and cooperative development programs have had a significant impact on rural communities. In 2012 alone, they helped almost 10,000 rural small business owners or farmers improve their enterprises. Business and cooperative program funding created or saved an estimated 53,000 rural jobs in 2012.
Eligible applicants include cooperatives, groups of cooperatives, and cooperative development centers where a majority of the governing board or board of directors is comprised of individuals who are members of socially disadvantaged groups. Small, socially disadvantaged producers include farmers, ranchers, loggers, agricultural harvesters, and fishermen that have averaged $250,000 or less in annual gross sales of agricultural products in the last three years. Producers will be able to conduct market research, product and/or service improvement, feasibility studies, training, and implement business plans.
(Published in The Press on 6.13.13)