Many farmers message our FarmRaise team asking about the Value Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant that awards funding for projects that “add value” to a farm operation in three categories: (1) processing costs (2) marketing and advertising expenses and (3) some inventory and salary expenses. To answer your questions, we spoke with professionals from the USDA Rural Development Office and an expert grant writer to get some insight into what makes a successful application.
In this post, we’ll cover:
Before we dive in, if you're on the hunt for grants like the VAPG, know that our team at FarmRaise is eager to partner with you to find the best funding options for your farm.
The VAPG program has approximately $20 to $25 million total funding available to producers each year, with between 30 and 50 percent of projects receiving awards. Individual projects can fund planning activities or working capital grants, with a maximum grant amount of $75,000 for planning grants and $250,000 for working capital grants.
Writing this grant can be a heavy lift, depending on whether you choose to apply for more than $50,000 or less than $50,000. This threshold is important because if you exceed $50,000 in your funding request, you must have an independent third party conduct a feasibility study for your project and include a business plan. If your request is $50,000 or below, you can skip that step and utilize a simplified application.
VAPG is a program under the USDA’s Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) which was created under the 2018 Farm Bill. Producers can find other LAMP grant funding opportunities as well as hundreds of other grants, loans and cost-shares in the FarmRaise Farm Funding Library. You can try the library for free and upgrade later if you want to take advantage of the library’s many features.
What does “value-added” actually mean? For the purposes of this grant, the USDA defines “value-added” as projects or activities that fall in the five following categories:
If you're interested in boosting your solar or wind energy efforts, learn more about the Rural Energy for America Program.
The VAPG grant is oriented toward assisting with costs of most “post-harvest” activities like working capital expenses or marketing opportunities. For livestock producers, “post-harvest” is the point at which your animals have been slaughtered and have moved forward to the “cut and wrap” stage. Competitive and common uses for VAPG funds include:
It does NOT cover:
While you can’t use the grant to purchase equipment yourself, you could use the grant to pay expenses associated with getting the job done another way. For example, do you need cold storage for your project to be feasible? Instead of purchasing a walk-in freezer for your property, you could use the grant funding to pay to rent cold storage elsewhere.
Think about how you might be able to pay contractors to get the work done, instead of buying your own equipment. This grant is all about giving you the means to start or expand a value-added activity for your farm, so non-equipment expenses are a great way to validate that your project has legs without the risk of purchasing an equipment asset up front.
VAPG requires applicants to match the funds received 1:1. Matching funds means that you must be prepared to double — with your own resources — whatever the amount is you apply for.
This matching requirement can be daunting, but the good news is that you can use “in-kind” resources for up to half of your match. In-kind contributions are non-cash contributions you’ll bring to the table — like your own time, the raw materials/goods, or labor. So, if you’re applying for a $50,000 grant, you may want to illustrate that you’ll contribute the first $25,000 of your match as “in-kind” and the remaining $25,000 as cash.
In terms of the cash portion, you need to be able to show that you have access to the amount of cash required for the match. What counts as proof? A bank statement from your savings account or a note from your bank illustrating your line of credit will do.
Your eligibility for VAPG is dependent upon whether:
If you meet the above requirements, then your VAPG application success is really all about the project that you’re proposing. The grant is competitive, so you want to illustrate that your project can do a few key things for your farm. The project must increase your revenue, expand your customer base, and increase your income to be competitive.
It can be hard to find the capital to get your farm off the ground. Thankfully the USDA might offer you priority if you’re:
If you’re considering VAPG, eligible applicants should have a strong understanding of the project they have in mind.
Start by completing our VAPG Readiness Survey.
Taking the survey will ensure that your intended project is eligible for this program. When you finish the survey, you’ll see our recommendation for appropriate next steps for your operation, including how to get connected with a grant writer or find your own grant writer.
The VAPG deadline is generally in the spring of each fiscal year. Paper applications are due later than electronic applications by about a week or so. We estimate that the entire time spent for writing an VAPG application to take between 60 and 100 hours. Keep that in mind as you plan your grant application process.
The application is a multi-step process. You can complete it yourself or receive support from a mentor or grant writer. Here’s a quick review of the application’s major components:
Step 1: Review the Application Toolkit
Step 2: Register with SAM.gov and UEI
Step 3: Compile your farm business paperwork
Step 4: Connect with your local Rural Development Office
We recommend completing the following sections in a separate document, instead of drafting directly into your application.
Step 5: Market Research
Step 6: Sales Analysis & Predictions
Step 7: Letters of Support
The budgeting component of this grant is very important. It outlines how your grant funding will be used in a detailed and organized manner, driving the outcomes of your project.
Step 8: Budget
Step 9: Project Timeline
The bulk of the narrative portion is found in Sections 5 and 6 of your application toolkit, however you must complete Sections 1-4, 7 and the Appendices to the full extent. Ensure that each appropriate checkbox is filled, and that every single prompt is addressed.
Sections 1-4 & 7:
Sections 5 & 6:
Forms & Appendices:
Most farmers write their own grant proposal for VAPG. It’s also a good idea to start working on your proposal early if you’re sure you want to apply. Give yourself at least two months to get the grant written and submitted, and more time is required if you’re applying for a grant that’s over $50,000 in value.
However, given the competitiveness of the program and the requirements of the grant, some farmers opt to receive assistance. FarmRaise can also help you find grant writing support.
For any specific questions you have along the way, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or your local Rural Development Office.
VAPG could be a good opportunity for independent producers to boost their farm or ranch profitability and expand their customer base. If you want to level up your agricultural products to “value-added products” check out Ellen’s VAPG grant writing tips and our VAPG Q&A with her in the video below. Ellen is the founder of Ellen Rawley Creative & Strategy which focuses on profitability of farms and food businesses. Happy farming and Keep Rising 🌱
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