The federal government announced it will give five Idaho food producers nearly $450,000 to market agricultural products in Mexico and California, among other places.
As part of its yearly Value Added Producer Grant program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the taxpayer cash to five firms to help them sell their wines, jams and jellies.
Ridge Wind Berry, based in Hazelton, came out the big winner in the cash giveaway. According to a department document, the USDA gave the producer $250,000 in operating funds to “help pay processing and marketing costs for a line of black currant berry products, including juice, syrup and jelly.”
Caldwell-based Bitner Vineyards, profiled by the Idaho Statesman last year and one of the state’s top wine producers, will receive just more than $40,000 in federal taxpayer funds. The cash will, according to the same USDA document, “pay marketing costs necessary to expand [its] customer base in California and Mexico for recipients of Mi Tierra and Late Harvest Riesling varieties of wine.”
The three other Idaho companies that will take federal handouts:
In November, across the country, the USDA handed out more than $34 million to 258 producers.
Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Vernita F. Dore said in a November press statement that the corporate welfare will stimulate growth in the agricultural sector.
“This funding will enable farmers and ranchers to develop new products, improve the bottom line for their operations and help create a robust local and regional food system,” Dore said.
Besides Idaho’s wine and cheese grants, the USDA handouts will fund marketing efforts for numerous other exotic foods, including: goat cheese and lotions in Indiana; locally produced, non-GMO, free-range chickens in Kansas; locally grown Virginia peanuts turned into chocolate covered peanuts and other peanut products; and a honey-based wine in New York.
The program also offers subsidies for non-edible items. The USDA awarded the Michigan Fiber Industry Coalition Cooperative $15,000 to expand the yarn market across the country. A Maine business will take nearly $50,000 to help market its “very fine” Alpaca yarn.
Though Dole sees the grant program as critical, others have marked it as nothing more than government waste.
Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., bashed the program nearly every year in his annual waste book, which detailed some of the federal government’s worst spending.
Watchdog.org’s Jon Cassidy knocked the program as pointless and wasteful in a Nov. 26 article:
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.
Idaho firms received $356,000 in USDA handouts last year, which funded at least one unusual project. Herbs of the World, a Salmon-based business that specializes in herbs for horses, pets and humans, pocketed $49,660 from the USDA last year.
Herbs of the World’s application for federal funds revealed it planned to use the money “to provide working capital to assist the applicant in marketing and sales of herbal supplements and remedies to the equine and pet industries.”
The USDA has handed out more than $150 million in grants since 2009.