Time is Running Out to Submit Letter of Intent for WNC Ag Options Grants

Mountain farmers eligible for funds to diversify operations in 2010
WNC AgOptions' Intent to Apply deadline: November 23

Grants totaling $225,000 are available to western North Carolina farmers who are diversifying or expanding their operations in 2010. WNC Agricultural Options will award approximately 45 farmers in 17 counties and the Cherokee Reservation $3,000, $6,000 or $9,000 each.

Managed by the N.C. Cooperative Extension County Centers in the West District, the WNC AgOptions program works with producers who demonstrate ways to increase farm income to other transitioning farmers, particularly tobacco growers. WNC AgOptions partners with RAFI-USA's Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund to run the program, and the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission sponsors it.

"The partnership we have with the WNC AgOptions program is very valuable to us," said William Upchurch, Executive Director of the Tobacco Trust Fund Commission. "Our experience has shown that participating farmers utilize these grants for innovative, resourceful and profitable enterprises that can make a huge impact on their farming operation."

Interested applicants should see the agricultural agents at their local Extension Centers by November 23, and can visit www.wncagoptions.org to download an application. Projects should increase the sale of farm products and lead to the long-term sustainability of the farm business. The postmark deadline for applications is January 8.

Recent recipients are transitioning from commercial to direct markets, extending their growing seasons, or developing value-added processing systems so that they will have a product to sell year-round. Funded projects include: a germination chamber for vegetable and flower starts, a refrigeration truck for transporting lettuce, and materials for hops production.

"This grant opportunity is an excellent resource to help offset the financial risk for farmers wanting to expand their operations or diversify into crops they may not be very familiar with," said Ross Young, Madison County Cooperative Extension Director. "The success of small family farms is the focus of this project. By providing financial assistance, this project is enabling farms to create more sustainable farming enterprises, which will have a long-term effect on the economy as well as farm land preservation."

Established in 2003, WNC AgOptions is entering its sixth funding cycle. Members of the WNC AgOptions steering committee include: representatives from N.C. Cooperative Extension program, N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services– Marketing Division, HandMade in America, Appalachian Sustainable Agricultural Project, former WNC AgOptions recipients and other leaders in agribusiness.