State, federal grant money available to farmers

virginia farm bureauTwo of the latest grant opportunities for Virginia farmers and agribusiness operators are the Virginia Farm Business Development Program, announced last fall, and a federal local foods and farmers’ market grant program.

Virginia Farm Business Program grants are designed to complement the Agriculture and Forest Industries Development Fund, which provides grants in conjunction with funding from local governments to boost the rural economy. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumers Services is accepting applications this winter for grants of up to $5,000 for individual producers and small farms. An online application is available at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/agriculture-virginia-farm-business-development-program%20.shtml.

“VDACS is recruiting applicants that are ready to grow, diversify or plan for the next generation of their business,” said Maggie Beal Longest, Virginia Farm Business Development program coordinator. “The grant will reimburse some of the costs of hiring an expert to help optimize the farm business. It encourages farmers to act as entrepreneurs.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service just announced $27 million in two grant programs for local food operations and farmers’ markets. A webinar on how to apply will be held Feb. 15, and details are available at www.ams.usda.gov/AMSgrants. Successful grant applications are typically for $100,000 or more and are much more competitive, said Chris Cook, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of rural development.

“Whenever you’re applying for grant money, make sure the grant fits your project,” Cook said. “Don’t try to make your project fit the grant; you won’t succeed.”

Cook is also executive director of the Virginia Foundation for Agriculture Innovation and Rural Sustainability, a nonprofit foundation that helps Virginia-based producers draw up business plans and apply for grant funds.

“The Virginia grant program can be used for a wide range of opportunities, but the federal grants are very tightly focused,” he noted. “Applying for them will require a lot more financial information and expertise.”

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