Q: Why did you push to create Value-Added Producer Grants?
A: As a lifelong family farmer, I know first-hand the many obstacles farmers face to stay afloat and pay the bills from one season to the next. A farmer’s prosperity is heavily influenced by external factors, such as natural disasters, severe weather and global production swings that can create fickle markets. Regulatory, tax, trade and monetary policy also factor significantly in to a farmer’s bottom line. Risk management tools, such as crop insurance, can help manage the uncertainties and protect a farming operation’s bottom line. As a longstanding advocate for Rural America, I’ve championed efforts to strengthen the federal farm safety net, including Chapter 12 bankruptcy laws to help struggling farmers reorganize debt and land on their feet to continue their livelihoods. Today only two percent of the U.S. population grows the food that feeds our country. We cannot afford to take this work for granted. Farming is the backbone of America, a heritage passed down from the nation’s founders. Like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, I consider America’s stewards of the soil among our most important citizens who not only protect us from starvation, they contribute to our nation’s military and economic security and national sovereignty. As one of Iowa’s U.S. Senators, I seize every opportunity I get to advance the interests of American agriculture at the policymaking tables. Nearly two decades ago, when Congress was renewing the farm bill, I wrote legislation to create the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program. Independent producers are earning a diminishing share of the consumer’s food dollar. This USDA program administers federal grants to entrepreneurial producers as a catalyst to add value to their products, such as processing, marketing and getting new products to the consumer.
Q: How does the VAPG program help independent producers?
A: The USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) reported the program provided 2,345 grants to farmers and ranchers between 2001 and 2015. The average grant award was $136,000. In its study, the ERS found grant recipients were less likely to fail and more likely to create jobs. When I first authored this program nearly twenty years ago, it was designed to help independent producers mitigate risk, capture more income, expand their markets and contribute to economic development and vitality in their communities. Today, I’m working to ensure these entrepreneurial seeds continue with adequate funding. Congress re-authorized VAPG in the 2018 farm bill as part of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) and provided $17.5 million per year in mandatory funding. However, the federal funds disbursed in this program fall short of the historic average in combined mandatory and discretionary funding. I’ve joined a bipartisan letter to congressional appropriators who are hammering out spending decisions for agriculture programs in 2020. We’re encouraging House and Senate negotiators to approve adequate funding for the value-added producer grants. With so much uncertainty right now in the farm economy, priming the pump to help small, independent producers stay in business is more important than ever. For example, earlier this year I secured an amendment in the federal disaster relief bill that authorizes the USDA to include on-farm stored commodities under the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) to help farmers who lost grain stored in on-farm bins due to heavy flooding. From my leadership position in the U.S. Senate, I’ll continue raising my voice and working as hard as ever on behalf of the nation’s farmers. Policymakers must keep in mind what keeps farmers, ranchers and independent producers productive. Iowans can count on my work to grow homegrown, renewable biofuels, boost competition and enforcement of anti-trust laws, expand rural broadband, strengthen mental health and suicide prevention services, as well as my unflinching advocacy for farm exports and market-opening trade agreements. I continue to press for passage of the USMCA and strengthening trade relationships with Japan, the European Union and China.