This fall, as part of its annual Value Added Producer Grant program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Idaho producers more than $850,000 in grant money.
The taxpayer cash, awarded to seven Gem State producers, will fund marketing for Alpaca yarn and batting, artisan wines, goat cheese and herbal-enhanced body care products.
Caldwell-based Fireball Alpacas, which boasts of it “award winning, top-of-the-line alpacas for your pleasure and profit,” reaped just more than $65,000 from the USDA grant program. That taxpayer money will fund “processing and marketing costs necessary to expand the market presence of recipient's line of Alpaca fiber based yarns, roving, batting, rug yarn, and felted material.”
It’s unclear, though, what pleasure is to be gained from Fireball’s alpacas.
Hargerman’s Thousand Springs Winery came out as a big winner in the federal cash blowout. The USDA awarded the winery $250,000 to give the business “working capital to assist with processing and marketing costs necessary to expand market for wines.”
Another Idaho winery took home federal tax dollars. Western Idaho’s Parma Ridge Wine and Spirits received $49,990 to “assist with processing and marketing costs necessary to expand recipient s production capacity and market presence for its new line of artisan wines.”
The four other Idaho companies that took federal handouts are:
Late this year, across the country, the USDA handed out more than $45 million to 258 agricultural producers. Idaho’s 2016 total of $850,000 far surpassed last year’s handouts, which checked in at just more than $450,000. Producers must match the grants dollar-for-dollar to qualify for funding.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack touted the program in a press statement. He noted, “These grants provide a much-needed source of financing to help producers develop new product lines and increase their income, and keep that income in their communities.”
In addition to Idaho’s wine and Alpaca yarn grants, the USDA handouts will fund marketing efforts around the country for numerous other exotic foods, including: honey soda in Michigan; wine-infused gelato in Missouri; grass-fed water buffalo meat, cheese and yogurt in New Jersey; and mushroom veggie burgers in Puerto Rico.
Though Vilsack sees the grants as “much needed,” others have marked the program as nothing more than government waste.
Former U.S. Sen Tom Coburn, R-Okla., bashed the program nearly every year in his annual wastebook, which detailed some of the federal government’s worst spending.
Watchdog.org’s Jon Cassidy knocked the program as pointless and wasteful in an article after the federal cash giveaway in 2015:
Nobody has ever managed to actually sell ice to the Eskimos, as far as we know, but if you wanted to try, you might be able to get some free money from the federal government, which recently approved a grant for something close: selling organic vegetables to hippies.
The USDA has handed out more than $190 million in grants since 2009.