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Concern over value-added funding

U.S. farmers and farm groups generally agree that value-added agriculture — in which a raw ag commodity is changed into something new and of greater economic value — is a good and desirable thing.

Now, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition warns that funding for the popular Value Added Producer Grant program is at risk because of the lapsed federal farm bill.

The farm bill, the centerpiece of U.S. food and ag policy, expired Sept. 30. Congress hasn't been able to agree on a new one because of policy differences between the House and Senate.

According to the National Sustainable Ag Coalition:

"Farmers and ranchers have already used all of the mandatory funding provided by the 2014 farm bill (a total of $63 million). This means that no farm bill funding will be available for the program unless the new farm bill (or a farm bill extension) provides it. We expect available dollars for the program to be cut by at least 50 percent in the absence of farm bill funding."

The group also says that the program will receive "a limited amount of discretionary funding" through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's annual appropriations process.

But without mandatory funding through a new farm bill, "USDA's capacity to help family farmers and ranchers develop and tap into new markets will be severely limited," says the coalition, an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocate for the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.

Earlier this year, USDA's Economic Research Service released a study of the Value-Added Producer Grant program from 2001 to 2015. The report found that businesses that receive grants through the program are less likely to fail and create more jobs than businesses that don't get grants.

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