The U.S. Department of Agriculture will fund $300 million in grants to boost exports

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $300 million in funding Tuesday for more than 60 groups seeking to diversify U.S. agricultural exports.

“USDA is pleased to provide seed capital to pursue these opportunities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on a call with reporters Monday evening before the announcement.

In total, 66 organizations will receive funding under the up-to-date Regional Agriculture Promotion Program (RAPP). USDA fired a $1.4 billion program in October that aims to develop up-to-date export markets for American food and agricultural products beyond time-honored partnerships with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and China.

“What this program really provides us with is an opportunity for us to not only expand our commercial opportunities geographically, but also in terms of the products we have available,” Vilsack said. “This is a huge opportunity for us to diversify in many different ways to increase market opportunities.”

The program focuses on leveraging U.S. exports into up-to-date markets in regions such as South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

“When you’re dealing with core markets, as in our case, where 60-65% of exports go to four or five markets, it can create a sense of complacency,” Vilsack said.

“The riskiest business in the world”

Vilsack said the funding will be an vital step in building wealth in rural areas of the United States.

“We want to ensure that our foreign market development programs and agricultural trade in general work for the full spectrum of U.S. agricultural producers, regardless of their size, location, product or target market,” he said. “When we invest in exports, we are investing in the future of American agriculture and rural communities.”

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, joined the call with reporters. She said USDA investing in exports is critical to growing American agriculture.

“The most important thing is (to) generate new revenue for the people running the riskiest businesses in the world,” Stabenow said. “This is a really important way to support them.”

According to a list provided by the USDA, some of the grant recipients include:

  • The Oregon and Washington State Hazelnut Marketing Council will receive $455,000 to conduct market research and trade missions in several African countries.
  • The Virginia-based U.S. Milk Export Council will receive $10 million to expand its presence in Africa by using the funds to research and develop dairy import rules and regulatory frameworks in these markets.
  • The Colorado-based U.S. Meat Export Federation will receive $21 million to expand export efforts to up-to-date markets across Africa. It will also expand its investments in the convenience store industry in South Korea, Central America and Colombia.
  • The Colorado Brewers Association will receive $2 million to participate in the Southeast Asian craft beer scene by participating in the region’s top brewery trade shows and festivals and inviting Southeast Asian buyers to top U.S. trade shows.
  • The Cranberry Institute in Massachusetts will receive $1 million to conduct trade education seminars and other events to identify opportunities in India, Brazil, Colombia and Southeast Asia.

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