WCMA Perspectives | Contributing Columnist

A Lot Like Christmas: Grant Opportunities Abound For Dairy

John Umhoefer executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association

December 3, 2021


In the season of giving, it seems appropriate to remind dairy processors about a host of grant opportunities available specifically for making and marketing dairy products.

And it’s timely too – some grants are open for applications soon or right now and have very reasonable requirements for applying and reporting progress.

Several dairy states benefit from one of the newest grant opportunities, the Dairy Business Innovation Initiative or DBII, shepherded into the 2018 farm bill by Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Three weeks ago, the USDA announced a third year of funding for DBII: three ongoing initiatives around the country each received $6 million and a new partner in California got $1.8 million.
Half of these dollars must, by law, be offered as grants to dairy producers and processors.

The dairy industries in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Illinois benefit from the initiative in the Upper Midwest. It’s the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance operated by Center for Dairy Research and Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association. This partnership is aggressively rolling out grant programs – about three each year – to assure processors and farms can gain funds to develop innovative dairy products, explore markets overseas, or diversify farms into dairy processing.

On February 1, 2022, the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance will open a $1 million round of “Dairy Business Builder” grants, offering up to $50,000 to dairy companies and farms. So far, the Alliance has awarded $2 million in grants to 43 businesses in the Upper Midwest.
The University of Tennessee runs another Dairy Business Innovation Initiative and offered $25,000 grants in the summer of 2021.

When USDA announced a fresh $6 million for the Tennessee-based initiative weeks ago, several Southeast states were rolled in to join Tennessee, including: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets is another $6 million partner in DBII, and also serves farms and dairy processors in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. Vermont reports that $3.3 million has been awarded in grants and competitive contracts to 45 businesses in the last two years.

USDA added a fourth partner to DBII in November, the Pacific Coast Coalition, led by Fresno State University and the California Dairy Innovation Center. Along with partners Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, the University of California, Davis, Humboldt State University and Oregon State University, the Pacific Coast Coalition will offer $300,000 in grants each year for the next three years to processors and farms in California, Oregon and Washington.

This year, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association worked with legislators in America’s Dairyland to double the amount of grant dollars in the Dairy Processor Grant program executed by Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (WDATCP).
In 2022 and 2023, the state agency will award $400,000 in grants.

Applications are being accepted right now, until January 7, and awards can be used to address a wide range of dairy business needs, such as food safety, staff training, plant expansion or modernization, and professional consulting services. Projects must increase capacity or production, and processors are required to provide a match of 20 percent of the grant amount.

Value Added Producer Grant
For more than two decades, dairy producers and dairy processing cooperatives have earned sizeable grants from USDA’s Value Added Producer Grant program. Awards of up to $250,000 (requiring a 1:1 match from the applicant) can assist farms in planning and executing a move to dairy processing, and assist cooperatives in new product processing, marketing, distribution, and other costs.

In 2021 this program swelled to $76 million, with a one-time addition of $35 million in COVID-19 relief funds. The grant program is expected to launch its 2022 application window in January or February, likely with a more typical – but substantial – kitty of about $40 million.

Wisconsin Ag Exports
Wisconsin legislators passed an aggressive funding program to spur agricultural exports in November, with half the $5 million spending package targeted specifically to dairy organizations. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is expected to sign this new initiative into law on December 3.

With this new funding, the International Agribusiness Center at WDATCP will create specific export marketing plans for dairy products, agricultural crops, forest products and meats. This $5 million investment in exports will be spent across five years and is designed to boost activities such as trade missions, market access and the technical exporting savvy of food companies.

The legislation demands that at least 15 percent of the funds – or over $300,000 – be directed to grants for state companies and cooperatives. These new grants will open up in 2022.

Reward your bold business plans by taking on these dairy-specific grants as 2022 begins
. JU.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed by Cheese Reporter columnists are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Cheese Reporter.



John Umhoefer

John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 286-1001 or e-mail John Umhoefer at jumhoefer@wischeesemakers.org

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