WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today during the National Summit of Rural America that USDA has selected recipients in 45 states and Puerto Rico to receive business development assistance and pursue marketing opportunities for agricultural commodities. Funding is made available through USDA Rural Development assistance under the Value-Added Producer Grant program, which was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.

"As part of the Obama administration's work to turn the economy around, USDA is acting as an important catalyst for business development and job creation in rural America," Vilsack said. "These grants will improve financial returns and help create jobs for agricultural producers, businesses and families across the Nation. USDA is investing in farmers, ranchers and cooperatives to strengthen the economic foundation of rural America."

For example, in Altoona, Wis., the Producers & Buyers Co-op has been selected to receive a working capital grant to build a value-added food chain infrastructure, expand capacity for locally produced agricultural products and help develop markets. The Co-op links local, sustainable farms with institutional buyers in a 12-county area of West Central Wisconsin. Members include producers, institutional buyers, food processors and those from the private transportation system.

In Reardon, Wash., Columbia Plateau Producers, LLC, which is owned by 21 wheat-producing families in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, has been selected to receive a working capital grant to expand the marketing capacity of the organization. All farmers in the cooperative are committed to no-till farming which saves fuel, prevents soil erosion and limits water runoff. The wheat produced is milled into high quality flour, marketed to bakeries, food manufacturers, and flour marketers in the Pacific Northwest under the "Shepherd's Grain" brand.

Meanwhile, the Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, LLC in Champaign, Ill., has been selected to receive a grant to complete a feasibility study, market assessment and business plan for an on-farm, goat-milk-to-gelato operation. The firm is diversifying into areas including perennial fruit trees and berry production; goat pastures; hayfields and prairie. The Creamery emphasizes a forage-based diet -- of seasonal and diverse pastures and locally grown alfalfa and grass hay -- for its herd of Nubian and La Mancha dairy goats.

The Value-Added Producer Grants announced today total more than $22.5 million. Funds may be used for feasibility studies or business plans, working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, and agricultural producer groups. Value-added products are created when a producer increases the consumer value of an agricultural commodity in the production or processing stage.

A list of recipients receiving grants is online.

SOURCE: USDA.