Proposed cuts to U.S. rural business grants has some Whatcom County farmers worried about what that will mean for the local economy.
The cuts being proposed by President Donald Trump’s administration include eliminating funding for the value-added producer grant, which goes directly to farmers for economic development, said David Bauermeister, executive director at the Northwest Agriculture Business Center.
It’s a significant source of funding in this region, with 15 projects in northwest Washington receiving a total of $1.9 million in funding over the past three years, according to Bauermeister. Producers matched this funding with $1.9 million of their own resources.
In the past, the grants have helped local farms take that next step in growth that enabled them to hire employees.
With help from the NABC, Grace Harbor Farms received a $249,000 grant at the end of 2015. The grant has limitations on what the money could be spent on, but what it did was create some cash flow, said David Lukens, CEO of Grace Harbor Farms. That led to the company hiring five more employees and increasing the number of stores it could send its products from about 90 to 120. Those products include milk, yogurt, soap and lotion.
“We wouldn’t have done it without the grant,” said Lukens, referring to the hiring of employees.
The grant program also is a big reason Twin Brook Creamery is now in big stores, such as Haggen and QFC, said co-owner Larry Stap. In 2010 Haggen and QFC expressed interest in carrying Twin Brook’s dairy products, but the farm had not reached a point that it could ramp up the production totals that stores that size would need. The $250,000 grant it received also freed up cash to make capital improvements.
That took us over the hump to becoming a profitable business
Larry Stap, Twin Brook Creamery, referring to the value-added producer grant
“That took us over the hump to becoming a profitable business,” Stap said. It also led to the hiring of employees. Twin Brook now has 10 employees on the farm.
At this point, it is unclear whether funding for the value-added producer grants will be restored. It has caught the attention of Congresswoman Suzan DelBene D-Medina, who has been critical of the cuts.
“Our farmers are the model of ‘Made in America,’ and they deserve a better deal than a budget that decimates programs they rely on to stay in business, feed the nation and compete overseas,” DelBene said. “Rural development programs, such as value added producer grants, help ensure they can get their products to market, and we should be supporting, not slashing, this kind of smart investment in programs that yield a great return and strengthen our rural communities.”
Stap said he understands that the current administration is making a lot of budget cuts, so his goal is to let legislators know that these grants are not a perk but something that adds value to the local economy.
“It made my business take off, and it led to others doing this,” Stap said. “It is definitely an asset.”