Agriculture Wants Innovation Centers to Boost Rural America

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The agency is accepting applications through 

The Agriculture Department officially opened applications Wednesday to award $3.5 million in competitive grants to individuals or entities who launch and run Agriculture Innovation Centers that advance rural America and offer critical technical and business assistance to its agriculture producers.

“Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments in infrastructure, partnerships and innovation,” agency officials wrote in a notice published in the Federal Register. 

Authorized by legislation dating back to 2002, AIC offers grants to nonprofit and for-profit corporations, institutes of higher education, state and local governments, federally recognized tribes and other public entities to support communities that aim to modernize. According to the agency, rural America envelops 72% of the nation’s land and 46 million people. The president established an interagency task force in 2017 to boost rural prosperity, and the group subsequently led research, developed a report and laid out a series of recommendations of what it would take. 

Agriculture wants applications that align with key priorities based on the task force’s findings, including: achieving e-connectivity in rural communities, developing their economies, harnessing technical innovation, supporting the workforce and enhancing the quality of life.

“Your project must focus on increasing and improving the ability of local agricultural producers to develop markets and processes for Value-Added agricultural commodities or products,” officials wrote. 

Interested entities must prove their eligibility through detailed documentation in the application process. The agency emphasized that the Centers must be independently governed and establish boards of directors that include representatives from their area’s agriculture department, entities that represent state-produced commodities and agriculture organizations with the most members across the state. They’ll also need to demonstrate that three or more relevant agriculture organizations support their projects. 

The agency will provide between $500,000 and $1 million per chosen applicant, over a project period of two years. In order to receive funding, the participants must be able to match one-third of the total project’s budget. 

Officials “strongly recommend” using the Agriculture-produced template to apply, and will accept applications electronically through by March 20. The department expects to announce awards in September 2020.  

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct the anticipated dates of the awards.