Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grants for farm diversification, local agriculture groups

WNC Agricultural Options will award a total of $150,000 to approximately 35 farm businesses and farmer-led groups in 2012.  Funded exclusively by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, WNC AgOptions continues its eight-year history of advancing the mountain region's diverse agriculture system.

"Successful farming in today's environment requires taking on challenges," said Ross Young, Madison County Extension Director and WNC AgOptions steering committee leader. "New crops, new farming systems and new marketing strategies all increase the potential of a farm's success but also increases risk. The WNC AgOptions program helps this region's farmers balance that risk by providing financial assistance as well as hands-on guidance with a new venture. The goal of this program is to discover farming practices that are innovative and have the potential of helping other farmers in the future."

Grants of $3,000 and $6,000 will be awarded to individual farmers proposing diversification projects that boost economic viability of their businesses. Awards of $10,000 will go to three farmer-led groups working to solve processing, packaging, marketing and other distribution needs of the local agriculture system.

Applications for the two grant opportunities are available at www.wncagoptions.org and at local Cooperative Extension Centers. Interested applicants must contact their local Extension Agents by November 16 to notify them that they intend to apply. The application postmark deadline is December 1.

Recent recipients of WNC AgOptions community grants created systems and undertook promotional campaigns to market produce and products directly to customers. Individual farm businesses responded to the growing demand for healthily raised poultry products, purchased equipment to receive Good Agricultural Practices certification, added crops to their vegetable operations to ensure steady income flow, built grade B inspected goat milk parlors, and expanded their vineyards and wineries. Several recipients used the grants to expand their businesses so they can become full-time farmers.

Eligible farms are in: Avery, Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga and Yancey counties as well as the Cherokee Indian Reservation.

For more information, see the following: WNC Agricultural Options: www.wncagoptions.org; N.C. Cooperative Extension Centers: www.ces.ncsu.edu; N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission: www.tobaccotrustfund.org; WNC Communities: www.wnccommunities.org; Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund, RAFI-USA: www.ncfarmgrants.org.

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