LYONS, Neb. -- The Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG), a U.S. Department of Agriculture program available directly to farmers and ranchers, has received a major funding increase, a lower match requirement and an application extension.

Applications are now due April 29 for those applying online and must be postmarked by May 4 for anyone applying by mail.

Planning grants of up to $75,000 help pay for feasibility studies and business planning that support future financing and business development. Working Capital grants fund up to $250,000 to cover marketing and product development costs. Projects requesting more than $50,000 require a previous feasibility study and business plan to verify viability of the product.

"This versatile grant program is available to individual farmers and ranchers, as well as groups of producers," said Trenton Buhr, policy associate for the Center for Rural Affairs. "Applicants must develop new products or expand existing markets for value-added products and produce at least 50% of the raw agricultural product they plan to add value to."

Funding for VAPG was increased to $76 million when coronavirus relief legislation was passed by Congress in December. The first round of applications will compete for $35 million, at a 10% cash match. Those whose application scored well, but did not receive a grant in the first round, will be asked to apply again for the remaining $41 million. This second round will require applicants to demonstrate they can supply a 100% match, or 1-to-1, which can be a combination of cash and in-kind contributions.

"Now is the ideal time to apply for this grant," Buhr said. "The additional funding greatly increases an applican'’s chances of success. It also comes at a reduced cost to applicants."