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Farmers Encouraged to “Think Out of the Box”

March 19, 2008

Lyons, NE – Minnesota farmers are being encouraged to try something different with their crops and land, and it could mean federal money in their pockets. Mike Heavrin with the Center for Rural Affairs says millions of dollars are available through the U.S. Agriculture Department's "Value-Added Producer" grant program, which encourages producers to put their ideas into practice.

"Examples would be a dairy, where they're bottling their milk and blending their milk right on the farm. Organic meats have been funded, walnuts have been funded, wood projects have been funded."

Other successful proposals have included biodiesel production, wineries and "wind farms" to produce electrical power. Heavrin says they all have one thing in common -- they're innovative attempts to get a few more dollars into the pockets of folks who run rural and farm-based businesses.

"Right now, out of every dollar that a consumer spends in a grocery store, the farmer gets between three and four cents. This program is designed to help the farmer keep control of that product during a longer portion of the chain, hopefully from the farm right to the grocery store; so all that money for the middlemen will go into the pockets of the farmers who are growing the food in the first place."

Heavrin adds farmers aren't the only ones eligible for the grants. The program is open to others involved in producing or harvesting an agricultural commodity, including loggers and anglers. He cautions that not every proposal will rewrite the history books, so to speak - but perhaps a few will.

"Every idea that's ever led to a Fortune 500 company started with one person. There could be some farmer or rancher out in Minnesota who has an idea that could really help rural communities, the rural economy and also themselves - and, hopefully, make an awful lot of money in the future. It's to help people who are thinkers and dreamers, put their dreams into action."

Heavrin notes that Minnesota is one of the top five states nationally for the amounts of such grant money received. The deadline to apply this year is March 31st. Learn more about the grant program online, at
www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/coops/vadg/htm

Jim Wishner/Don Mathisen, Public News Service - MN