The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is alerting all independent agricultural producers in the state that approximately $18.4 million in competitive grant funds are available through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service (RBS) for fiscal year 2008 to help farmers undertake value-added pursuits.

Eligible applicants also include farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures.

Grants may be used for planning activities and for working capital to market value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy.

The maximum amount for a planning grant is $100,000 and the maximum amount for a working capital grant is $300,000. Applicants must provide documentation of all proposed matching funds, both cash and in-kind, and must certify that matching funds will be available at the same time grant funds will be spent.

According to RBS, value-added means the producer increases the worth of a commodity as the result of a change in its physical state, differentiated production or marketing, product segregation, or the economic benefit realized from the production of farm-based renewable energy.

For details contact the Virginia USDA Rural Development Office, 1606 Santa Rosa Road, Suite 238, Richmond, Va. 23229, 804-287-

Applications for grants must be submitted on paper or electronically. Paper copies must be postmarked and mailed, shipped, or sent overnight no later than March 31, 2008, to be eligible for FY 2008 grant funding. Electronic copies must be received by March 31, 2008. Late applications are not eligible for FY 2008 grant funding.