ORLANDO, FLORIDA, January 11, 2016 - Deciding whether to apply for a federal grant - and when - for a farm or agribusiness requires significant foresight and self-analysis, according to grant-writing and rural entrepreneurship experts during a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation's 97th Annual Convention and IDEAg Trade Show.
Sometimes the effort is worth it, sometimes it may not be, advised the experts.
A value-added support team in Iowa is made up of agribusiness experts from Iowa State University, state government and other agencies. The group meets once a month to review confidential start-up proposals.
'It's kind of like 'Shark Tank,' but friendlier,' joked Denny Harding, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation's bio-economy manager and a member of the team.
'Our purpose is to help them discover their weaknesses and some of their opportunities,' Harding said. 'It really does seem to help a lot of these companies that want to get started. And sometimes you can do just as much by saying, 'Hey, this needs a lot of work and here's what you can work on,'' he said.
'Look at where you're going first. Focus on that goal and see what gives you the best bang for your buck,' was the advice of James Matson, owner of Matson Consulting LLC, a grant-writing specialty firm. 'The grant isn't the goal. The goal is to improve your business and gain money.
'You're often looking at a multi-year process and you can expect some failures along the way,' Matson said. He added that applying for a grant also involves considering whether you can accept whatever strings are attached to the money. Many times producers themselves come to realize that their time would be better spent growing their business in other ways, he said.
'We use grant programs as just one tool to help rural businesses grow,' said Christopher Cook, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation's assistant director of rural development. 'When working through the process of applying for a grant, applicants are learning a lot about their business, especially if one part of the application is a formal feasibility study.
'We often think the process is far more important than the grant,' Cook said.
There are a number of federal grants available from the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies. Some require mountains of paperwork; some are only four pages. USDA options include Value-Added Producer Grants, the Rural Energy for America Program and the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. There are also grants available to help improve farmers' markets and promote local food programs.
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