Many grant opportunities for producers to fund their dream project

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

State and national agencies offer many opportunities for farmers, producers and other ag businesses across the state to gain funding for their dream projects.

The US Department of Agriculture and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will soon be accepting applications for 2021 or later for the following grants, which are open to many kinds of ag producers in a diverse range of commodities.

Specialty Block Crop Grants (USDA)

The SBCG grant program will begin receiving applications in January 2021 and applications will be due March 15. The grant is designed to enhance competition between specialty crops, like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and horticultural crops. Projects with priority include those focused on environmental sustainability, pest control and management, food safety practices and industry innovation. 

Eligible applicants include non-profits, ag producer organizations, government agencies and universities. Individuals, businesses or other commercial groups should only apply if their project will benefit the industry as a whole. Current funding is estimated at $1.25 million with no required matching. Funded projects should be completed by July 2023. Visit their website for more information.

SARE Farmer-Rancher Grants (USDA)

The SARE grant program for farmers and ranchers will open requests for funding in August this year, with a likely deadline in late November or early December. The program's mission is to fund sustainable, profitable farming systems that are environmentally sound and also provide community education. Eligible applicants include both individual farmers and groups of farms with a community-oriented interest.

Funding for the projects will be around $700,000 with grant caps at $9,000 for individual farms; $18,000 for groups of two; and $27,000 for groups of three or more farms, with no required matching. Recipients are required to include a community outreach component in their project in the form of research or education, and all projects should be finished within two years of the start of the project. Visit their website for more information.

Value-Added Producer Grants (USDA)

Ag producers can apply to the VAPG program beginning this fall with applications due in January 2021. This program aims to help independent ag producers enter the value-added commodity industry of their choice by funding either project planning or working capital. Portions of the funding are set aside for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.

Eligible applicants include independent producers, producer groups, farmer co-ops and majority-controlled businesses. Anticipated nationwide funding totals $18 million with planning grant maximums at $75,000 and working capital grant maximums at $250,000. The program requires a dollar-for-dollar match on the eligible project costs and expectation of increased revenue, customer base and job creation. Visit their website for more information. 

Dairy Processor Grants (DATCP)

Dairy processors can start applying to the Dairy Processor Grant program in September with the application window closing in November. The grant mission is to improve the dairy industry in Wisconsin by fostering innovation and economic growth to increase profitability. Eligible applicants include licensed dairy processing plants that handle milk.

On the priority list for these grants is modernization, operation expansion, food safety and new technological advancements. DATCP estimated funds are $200,000 with grant caps at $50,000, and each recipient must match the grant at 20% of the funding request. Projects must also be completed within two years. Visit their website for more information.

Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grants (DATCP)

Certain farms can apply to receive a Producer-Led Watershed Protection Grant beginning this month with requests for funding due in October. These grants focus on water conservation and improving water quality in the state's 330 watersheds through agricultural sustainability. Eligible applicants include groups of five or more producers whose farms produced at least $6,000 in gross revenue last year or at least $18,000 in gross revenue in the last three years. 

Priorities for this funding include creative ways to solve water quality issues and viable ways to track conservation progress. The program also emphasizes the importance of leadership and community support for these projects. Estimated funding totals $750,000 with a maximum of $40,000 per receiving group with a 1-to-1 match on the grant amount. Visit their website for more inormation.

Buy Local Buy Wisconsin Grants (DATCP)

The BLBW grant program is open to anyone in the state's food, agriculture and retail industries who work on ways to strengthen marketing in Wisconsin by making food products more accessible to consumers. It's currently unknown when the application window will open, but the deadline is March 2021. Eligible applicants include individuals, businesses and organizations in agriculture, food processing and retail food establishments, among others.

Projects with priority include those focusing on increasing local food sales and improving local food market development. Funds for this program total $300,000 with a minimum grant of $5,000 and maximum of $50,000. Projects will be subject to special criteria based on the funding request amount, and final recipients must also match 100% of the grant total. Visit their website for more information. 

What to consider before applying

When considering applying for a grant, Diane Mayerfeld, Wisconsin SARE coordinator, says you should consider several aspects of the grant application and project design process.

First, think about how your project goals align with the goals of the specific grant you want to apply to – different grants cover different things, so make sure you are applying to the right grant. Second, ensure the time frame and funding potential for the grant match your needs. It's important to plan your budget and desired funding first as well as the amount of time it will take to get the project done.

Third, know the eligibility restrictions on grants. Some grants are only open to groups of farms or businesses, for example, or are only given to farms owned by veterans or beginners. And lastly, consider the likelihood of getting funded – you'll want to apply where there is a reasonable expectation of receiving some amount of money.

Dairy processor grant success stories

Cedar Grove Cheese is one of the companies to receive a DATCP dairy processor grant. They got $35,000 to build a block-chain project that would link consumers to the product they bought through QR codes – black-and-white squares you can scan with your phone's camera to take you to a website or app. The codes would take them to the company website that tells them more about where the product comes from.

Cedar Grove owner Bob Wills said the goal is to allow consumers to access information about their products that can't easily fit on the product label. The QR codes make the consumer interact more with the product beyond just consuming it, hopefully building a relationship with that company, Wills said.

"It's going to be a really important project for showing the way for this kind of technology, and I expect it will be beneficial for us in the ability to market our products because people will like the story that we're telling," Wills said.

Paul Witke, vice president of Zimmerman Cheese Company, said his company received a $10,000 grant that funded the design of parts of a raw milk silo that would double their milk holding capacity. He said although the grant covered just 1% of the project budget, it's still a good idea to apply for these grants because it's an easy process.

"The people in the grant department are good people," Witke said. "It's a good program and well-administered. We're happy to get the grant."