USDA Programs Can Help Agricultural Producers with Their Operations

By Dr. Carrie Castille, Louisiana Director, USDA Rural Development

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Today’s agriculture industry is more diverse and more vibrant than ever. USDA is committed to keeping pace with the needs and progress of Louisiana agriculture producers by supporting new markets and movements that will keep farmers and communities profitable and help create rural prosperity.

USDA Rural Development (RD) offers several financial opportunities to help rural businesses, cooperatives, and agricultural producers. Loan guarantees and grants may be available for agricultural producers and small businesses to support their farming operations. We are here to help.

The USDA Business Programs provide financial backing for rural businesses and ag producers to stimulate business creation and growth. Loan guarantees and grants may be available to individuals, businesses, cooperatives, farmers and ranchers, public bodies, non-profit corporations, Native American Tribes, and private companies in rural communities.

The Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) Program provides funds to help with farm-related businesses to help them grow and create jobs by turning raw commodities into value-added products, expanding marketing opportunities, and developing new uses for existing products. Grant funds can be used for planning activities and for working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products, and for farm-based renewable energy. Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, ag producer groups, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures. Participants must obtain matching funds for half the total costs of their project.

For example, RD’s Value-Added Producer Grant can be used to determine the feasibility of a dairy cooperative producing several types of products, providing cold storage, and setting up a central market to sell products locally. Another example can be using an old vacant facility and turning it into a process facility for cattle or dairy products.

The Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) program is designed to support targeted technical assistance, training and other activities leading to the development or expansion of small and emerging private businesses in rural areas which will employ 50 or fewer new employees and has less than $1 million in gross revenue. The Food Bank of Central Louisiana applied for a Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) for $200,000 to construct and expand their current warehouse capacity by 12,500 sq. ft. to expand their cooler and freezer space.

The Rural Cooperative Development Grants helps Cooperative Development Centers promote rural business ventures. Participating centers can assist in starting, expanding, or improving the operations of rural cooperatives and other mutually owned businesses. Using these grants, participants can conduct feasibility studies, develop business plans, provide training, and facilitate strategic planning.

With rising energy costs, it is important that farmers, product aggregators, and other businesses look for ways to become more energy efficient. Through RD’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency programs (REAP), funds can be used to help pay for new, more efficient grain drying systems. Energy efficiency projects – including installing new electric motors that are more efficient, adding insulation and improving electrical or heating and cooling systems are eligible projects. Cold storage facilities and grocery stores may also benefit from energy-efficient upgrades. For example, Pointe Coupee Farmers Elevator received a grant to replace a dryer unit that was inefficient and costly to repair. The new grain dyer provided a simple, reliable, fuel efficient dryer that allowed the applicant to reduce energy usage by 38%.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, administers and manages housing, business, and community infrastructure programs. 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 communities throughout the state. For more information, please contact me, or (318) 473-7921, to let us know how we can help.