The Department of Agriculture is accepting applications for grants to help rural businesses create jobs through cooperative development centers. In making the announcement, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack explained that cooperative development centers are business and job incubators. They support President Obama's goal to bring increased economic opportunities to rural communities by assisting new businesses as they create sustainable jobs.
Under the RCDG program, grants of up to $225,000 may be awarded to colleges, universities and non-profit groups to create and operate centers that help individuals or groups establish, expand or operate rural businesses, especially cooperatives. Grants may be used to conduct feasibility studies, create and implement business plans, and help businesses develop new markets for their products and services.
USDA may award up to $7.4 million in grants. Funds may finance up to 75% of the cost of establishing and operating the cooperative centers. Recipients must match 25% of the total project cost. Applications are due July 22, 2011.
USDA is also making $7 million available to eligible farmers, ranchers and private non-industrial forest landowners in 11 states to implement conservation practices on agricultural and nonindustrial private forest lands through the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative. The funds will help producers in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Oregon, Virginia and Washington create natural resource benefits such as clean air, clean water, productive soils, and abundant wildlife on their operations.
Individual farmers, ranchers and private landowners located in approved project areas may now apply through their local NRCS office to find out whether they are eligible for financial and technical assistance. They can use that assistance to address conservation priorities; meet federal, state, and local regulatory requirements related to production; cooperate to install and maintain conservation practices; and develop and demonstrate innovative conservation practices and delivery methods.
Partner proposals were selected competitively based on previously identified criteria. Potential partners were not required to provide matching funding but increased their chance of selection by providing financial, technical, or other resources.