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Specialty-crop grant applications sought

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is accepting applications for a second round of 2021 Specialty Crop Block grants. Nonprofits, producer groups, government agencies, universities and other agricultural organizations may apply. The application deadline is Oct. 29.

Eligible projects are focused on enhancing the competitiveness of specialty-crop industries through research, education or market development. Fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery crops, herbs and more are considered specialty crops. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will use a competitive review process to select the most qualified projects, with priority for projects featuring a COVID-19 relief component.

Projects may receive grant funds for as many as three years in duration. Typical projects receive between $10,000 and $100,000. In anticipation of receiving funding, selected project contracts and work would begin in spring 2022.

Eligible project expenses are compensation for personnel, consultant services, materials and supplies. Visit datcp.wi.gov and search for "specialty crops" or contact ryand.dunn@wisconsin.gov or 608-590-7239 for more information.

Grants to provide relief to farm, food workers

The new Farm and Food Workers Relief grant program was created to help farmworkers and meatpacking workers with health and safety costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Competitive grant funding of $700 million will be available through the program. To recognize the essential role of and costs borne by front-line grocery workers, $20 million of the $700 million has been set aside for at least one pilot program to support grocery workers and test options for reaching them in the future. The new program is funded by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Build Back Better efforts to respond to and recover from the pandemic.

The funding is intended to defray costs for reasonable and necessary personal, family or living expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as costs for personal protective equipment, dependent care and expenses associated with quarantines and testing related to the pandemic.

A request for application will be announced in early fall and will be open for 60 days. Additional information and assistance for applying for the grants will be provided by the USDA when the application period opens. Visit ams.usda.gov and search for "farmworker and food worker relief" or contact ffwr@usda.gov for more information.

Organic Farm School accepting applications

The Organic Farm School of Clinton, Washington, will begin accepting applications for an intensive training program in organic farming. Situated on a rural island in the Pacific Northwest, the 10-acre, solar-powered farm is certified organic. It offers an experiential training program from April through October. The 2022 class will be selected by December 2021.

The program provides practical and comprehensive education in small-scale organic farming. Guided by experienced farmer-instructors, trainees learn through hands-on management of the farm, plus regular observation walks, field trips and classroom studies – both in person and virtual.

Participants are from 21 years to more than 60 years old. Many are transitioning from past careers. The curriculum is designed for aspiring farmers who envision themselves owning or managing a small organic farm. Trainees grow vegetables, seed crops and cover-crops as well as pastured poultry, sheep and pigs. They sell farm products to the community through a community-supported agriculture program, a farmer's market, local grocers and a weekly farm stand. Classroom work focuses on crop and livestock production, business planning and direct marketing.

Practical skills taught include basic mechanics and carpentry, how to use small and large equipment, greenhouse propagation, as well as planting, weeding, harvesting, marketing and record keeping. One-on-one coaching includes creation of a farm-business plan. Visit organicfarmschool.org for more information.

USDA invests in renewable-energy infrastructure

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $464 million to build or improve renewable-energy infrastructure and to help rural communities, agricultural producers and businesses reduce energy costs in 48 states and Puerto Rico.

The USDA is financing investments through the Rural Energy for America Program. The program helps agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchase and install renewable-energy systems and make energy-efficiency improvements. The climate-smart investments will conserve and generate more than 379 million kilowatt-hours in rural America, which equates to enough electricity to power 35,677 homes per year, according to the USDA. Funding recently was awarded to several companies in Wisconsin. Contact the Wisconsin USDA Rural Development office at 715-345-7600 or wi-rd-stateoffice@usda.gov for more information.

Restaurant company to go cage-free globally

Yum! Brands, with about 50,000 locations globally across its KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and The Habit Burger Grill brands, has released a policy to transition to 100-percent cage-free eggs and egg products in most of its locations by 2026, and globally by 2030. The fast-food corporation will provide annual progress reporting to ensure transparency. It is said to have committed to the largest public cage-free campaign to date.

The campaign leading up to Yum! Brands' commitment was led by member organizations of the Open Wing Alliance. Activists from 79 animal-protection organizations in 62 countries joined forces to demand cage-free production.

More than 100 global commitments to end cages have been made by large companies such as Burger King, Dunkin', Krispy Kreme, Unilever, Nestlé, Aldi, Kraft Heinz, Compass Group, Shake Shack and Barilla, according to the Open Wing Alliance. Visit openwingalliance.org for more information.

Tractor sales remain positive

U.S. total farm-tractor sales increased 9.9 percent in August compared to 2020 while self-propelled combine sales increased 19.8 percent, the second consecutive month of about 20 percent growth for harvesters. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers also reported that the category of tractors less than 40 horsepower returned to a positive position, increasing 8.7 percent. The mid-size 41-horsepower to 100-horsepower segment increased 5.4 percent in August.

Heavy-duty units grew significantly with the articulated four-wheel-drive segment leading the way for the fourth consecutive month. It increased 40.4 percent. The greater than 100-horsepower two-wheel-drive segment increased 37.8 percent. Year-to-date farm-tractor sales increased 13.3 percent; combines increased 13.8 percent.

A return to growth for small units was a pleasant surprise, said Curt Blades, senior vice-president of agriculture services at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. He also pointed to continued growth of big row-crop units and harvesters. Farmers investing in more of the big machines is another indicator of the farmer optimism the equipment industry has been seeing, he said.

Visit aem.org and search for “tractor and combine reports” for more information.

Industry investments expected to break record

Startup companies in the agricultural-technology and food-technology industries worldwide raised $24 billion in the first half of 2021. The total is approaching the $30-billion total raised in all of 2020, which broke records.

While mega-deals involving seven Chinese e-grocery startups accounted for $3.8 billion of the first-half figure, funding to other countries is still on track to outpace 2020 levels, according to AgFunder.

Excluding Chinese deals to remove outliers, egrocery was still the best-funded category. It represented 23 percent of the investment pie followed by midstream technologies at 15 percent and in-store retail and restaurant technology at 13 percent. There was a revival for the latter in 2021 after COVID-19 lockdown orders lifted across the globe. Restaurants and retailers used technology to adjust to a new paradigm involving fewer wait staff and socially distanced operations.

Downstream startups more generally experienced an uptick in funding, once again overtaking upstream investment; 2020 was the first year on record that upstream startups – those operating closer to the farm and in the supply chain – raised more money than their consumer-facing peers. Visit agfunder.com for more information.

Precision livestock-farming company acquired

AGCO recently acquired Farm Robotics and Automation S.L., a precision livestock-farming company. Faromatics created ChickenBoy, a ceiling-suspended robot that monitors broiler chickens and helps farmers improve animal welfare and farm productivity. The robot uses sensors to measure thermal sensation, air quality, light and sound. It also uses artificial intelligence to identify risks to health, welfare and farm equipment. Visit agcocorp.com and faromatics.com for more information.

Minnesota counties designated natural-disaster areas

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated seven counties in Minnesota as natural-disaster areas. That will enable the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to extend emergency credit to producers through emergency loans. The loans may be used to meet various recovery needs such as the replacement of essential items such as equipment or livestock, reorganization of a farming operation, or the refinance of certain debts. The Farm Service Agency will review the loans based on extent of losses, security available and repayment ability.

Due to drought producers are eligible for emergency loans in the designated primary Minnesota counties of Big Stone, Brown, Carlton, Murray, Nicollet, Sibley and Swift. Producers in contiguous counties also are eligible. Those counties in Minnesota are listed.

  • Aitkin
  • Blue Earth
  • Carver
  • Chippewa
  • Cottonwood
  • Kandiyohi
  • Lac Qui Parle
  • Le Sueur
  • Lyon
  • McLeod
  • Nobles
  • Pine
  • Pipestone
  • Pope
  • Redwood
  • Renville
  • Rock
  • St. Louis
  • Scott
  • Stevens
  • Traverse
  • Watonwan

Producers in the South Dakota counties of Grant and Roberts and Douglas County in Wisconsin also are eligible.

Applications are due Apr. 27. Visit farmers.gov and search for “local service center” for more information.

Community-supported-agriculture software deal completed

GrubMarket recently acquired Farmigo, a provider of community-supported agriculture software for farmers to grow and manage their business online and reach more consumers. Using technology and a community-based business model, Farmigo connects farms directly to consumers through food communities such as workplaces, schools, apartment complexes and community centers. Once a food community is established members can order their selection online from local farms and have it delivered weekly or bi-weekly to their community site.

Farmigo has provided technology to hundreds of community-supported agriculture farms in 25 states and has connected them to more than 3,000 communities. The Farmigo software will become an addition to GrubMarket's software product family. Visit grubmarket.com for more information.

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