WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns today announced the selection of 194 applications from 40 states and two territories to receive $22.6 million in USDA Rural Development grant assistance through the Value-Added Producer Grant and Small Minority Producer Grant programs.

"These grants support farm families in rural America by helping them to market their commodities and increase their financial returns," said Johanns. "I'm pleased to announce that some of these funds will focus on development of alternative fuels from renewable energy sources - part of President Bush's comprehensive national energy policy."

A total of 41 energy-related value-added grants are being awarded at a combined funding level of $4.7 million.

Examples include an award of $300,000 to the Midwest Biodiesel Producers LLC of South Dakota for working capital to fund a start-up biodiesel plant and an award of $299,900 to the Barton County Ethanol Producers LLC of Missouri for working capital to run an ethanol facility in southwest Missouri.

A portion of the Value Added Grant funds were designated for applicants requesting less than $25,000. USDA is funding all 61 eligible project applications received in this category.

Examples of value-added grants that are not energy related include a grant of $255,800 to Innovative Growers, LLC of Iowa to fund a unique, chemical-free way to process soybeans and market its soy product and a grant of $107,520 to Lauren Farms, Inc. of Mississippi to develop promotional materials and commercial quantities of two ready-to-prepare prawn products.

Under the small minority producer grant program, $1.5 million is being awarded to cooperatives in 7 states and 2 territories. Funds are provided for cooperatives or associations of cooperatives whose primary focus is to assist small minority producers and whose membership and/or governing board is composed of at least 75 percent minority members.

For example, in Colorado, a cooperative will conduct a feasibility study relating to the establishment of an organic beef business. A Native-operated South Dakota based bison cooperative will receive funds to train representatives from 57 tribes in bison management.

Since 2001, the USDA has committed more than $136 million to value-added agricultural investments.

Value-Added Producer Grants may be used for planning activities, such as feasibility studies or business plans, or to provide working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants are independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures.

Value-added products are created when a producer takes an agricultural commodity, like milk or vegetables, and processes or prepares it in a way that increases value to consumers.

USDA Rural Development's mission is to deliver programs in a way that will support increasing economic opportunity and improve the quality of life of rural residents.

A complete list of the grants and further information about rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA's Web site at www.rurdev.usda.gov.

SOURCE: USDA news release.