Value added to local businesses
LAKEFIELD -- Minnesota Department of Agriculture Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Poster and Marketing Division Director Mary Hanks visited farms and businesses in southwest Minnesota Monday.
All of the farmers and business owners included on the tour received a Value Added or Livestock Investment grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to upgrade or expand their operations.
Poster and Hanks visited Bill Brandt, owner of Brandt Gardens and Greenhouse of rural Lakefield. Brandt will use Value Added Grant funds to build a commercial-grade produce handling and cleaning facility to enable him to sell produce that meets food safety requirements.
"The main building is 24 feet by 36 feet, and there will be a 10-foot porch on the east and west side length of the building," Brandt explained.
The east side will be used to wash vegetables, and the west side will be used to display potted plants and other produce.
By meeting food safety requirements, Brandt will be able to sell to a wider market -- including hospitals and schools -- Hanks explained.
"I think we're making great leaps in society and changing the way to think about things," said Brent, alluding to the growing trend of eating locally grown food.
In addition to expanding his market, Brandt anticipates the new building will allow him to hire four new employees.
Other businesses visited on Monday include Johnson's Meats, Windom; Welcome Meats, Welcome; Hoff Farm, Steen; and Middleroad Acres Farm, Chandler. Today, the group will visit Boerboom Farm, Marshall; Lanoue Farm, Marshall; Mathiowetz Farm, Olivia; and Schuft Farm, Arlington.
Through the December 31, 2012, and March 1 funding deadlines, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture awarded $700,000 in grant funds for 50 Value Added grants and 90 Livestock Investment grants. Hanks and Poster will continue traveling around the state to visit all the projects that have been funded through the grant program.
"Southwest Minnesota did really well particularly with the Livestock grant," Hanks added.
The grants cover up to 25 percent of a project costs, and applicants are responsible for the remaining 75 percent.
"These projects are huge investments for the producers," Hanks explained. "They have to submit a business plan and a marketing plan, and we know that the people have thought this through."
The Minnesota Value Added Grant supports MInnesota agricultural producers and processors, and strives to increase sales of Minnesota agricultural products by diversifying markets, increasing market access and increasing food safety.
The Livestock Investment Grants aim to boost the state's livestock sector and help livestock farmers stay competitive to ensure Minnesota remains one of the top 10 U.S. in livestock production.
The Value Added Grant and the Livestock Investment Grants are both part of the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program, which was established to advance Minnesota's agricultural and renewable energy industries.
"We're out to do a couple things," explained Poster, "first to highlight and reward the investment the private producers have made around the state, and then to talk about the opportunity moving forward the next two years. We want to make sure his neighbors know we can continue making an investment in rural Minnesota. We want to put our money where our mouth is."
The grant program is part of a larger commitment made by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to increase jobs in Minnesota. According to Poster, in the next two years, $20 million has been dedicated to similar projects.
"Governor Dayton's big priority was -- as he ran and as governor -- has been jobs. And he sees agriculture as one of the best areas in the economy to get a good return on the investment," Poster said. "If the Department of Agriculture can partner with private producers -- we put in a little and they put in a lot -- they can usually hire a couple people."
To be eligible for the grants, applicants were required to primarily produce, process or market Minnesota agricultural products. Each agricultural cooperative was required to be a member-owned business that provides, offers or sells agricultural products or services for the mutual benefit of the members.
The next funding round for the Livestock Investment Grant and Value Added Grant will end in July. Grant applications and additional information can be found at www.mda.state.mn.us.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.