February 21, 2012
Article written by Michael Pursell, Public Policy Intern
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute
American farmers have always been among the nation’s innovators, and USDA began offering Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG’s) about ten years ago to help them keep innovating. This grant program is a crucial economic driver in rural America, helping farmers explore new options, expand their businesses, boost profits, and employ new workers.
That’s why it was disappointing when no VAPG grants were awarded in 2011, at a time when the nation was still sorely in need of an economic boost. But early this month, USDA gave us that boost when it announced two years’ worth of long-awaited awards for the Value-Added Producer Grant program: about $40.2 million in grant monies were awarded to some 298 projects across the country.
Edward Knapton of Berry Hill Farm/America’s Best Flowers in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin was a VAPG grant recipient to the tune of $300,000 in 2010, and he testifies to the value of the program. VAPG, he says, “put us on a path where we can grow significantly in the future and employ a lot of people.” The growth, in his case, has been enormous. Among other boons, his grant has helped him expand sustainable greenhouse production of culinary and medicinal herbs; explore and develop use of organic fertility, pest and weed control for flowers, herbs, and vegetables; and expand their marketing into social media and beyond. He has also hired three new people in the process, without whom he wouldn’t have been able to make the transition to reduced chemical use.
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute has worked hard to make sure that innovative Wisconsin farmers across the state can enjoy the same opportunities that the Knaptons have, and we’re thrilled to announce that in this latest cycle, our state has been awarded 28 Value-Added Producer Grants, more than any other state for the fifth year in a row. This is tremendous news for Wisconsin’s farmers, economy, and rural communities, and promises to ensure our place at the cutting edge of agriculture going forward.
Unfortunately, the future of the program itself is not so certain. VAPG is up for renewal in the 2012 Farm Bill, and budget cutters have their blades sharpened. The renewal and full funding of VAPG is imperative if American farmers are going to continue to enjoy the opportunities to innovate and increase profits that helps them and builds economic prosperity in their communities.