Development funds aid agriculture and forestry

Virginia Farm Bureau

Virginia’s oldest and most powerful economic sector now has a development fund, and the latest round of planning grants to help spur business activity in rural parts of the state recently were announced.

The Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) fund has approved grants for three planning projects totaling $60,500, including one for a study of ways to expand various agribusinesses in the Rappahannock-Rapidan Regional Planning District, which includes Rappahannock County.

The other funded projects are a feasibility study on establishing a Virginia wine heritage center in Albemarle County and an exploration of strategies to link Virginia Tech’s Catawba Sustainability Center to Roanoke County’s local food businesses.

Those projects will receive planning grants, and there are separate AFID grants available to help pay for construction of facilities or other physical improvements that could help create jobs in economically depressed areas. Last May, $249,000 in grant funds were awarded to 11 projects covering 31 Virginia localities.

“The benefit of this fund is it’s a matching grant between the state, the locality and the agribusiness involved,” said Trey Davis, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of governmental relations. “These funds are to be used only to benefit the agribusiness in that locality. This most recent announcement is exciting, because we’re seeing that the money appropriated for these projects is already being used; in fact, applications are coming in quicker than expected.”

Economic studies have identified farming and forestry as the state’s largest economic sectors, with more than $70 billion in economic impact and more than 400,000 jobs. Davis said Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups supported the grant program to give rural economies and rural businesses a boost.

“People are working together to funnel these dollars to long-term projects,” he said, “and these projects can be very flexible. For instance, if four to 10 localities want to get together to develop a proposal, we think they should be able to.”

Another $149,500 is available in the AFID grant program for fiscal year 2014, and the secretary of agriculture and forestry will continue reviewing applications until the funding runs out or is renewed by the General Assembly.

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