|By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SRINGBORN
LANSING, Mich. — A $74,500 grant may be just what Michael Beck needs to take his agri-business to the next level.
Beck’s business, Uncle John’s Fruit House Winery of St. Johns, is one of eight Michigan agricultural businesses that have been awarded a total of $467,000 in value-added producer grants by the USDA’s Rural Development agency. The grants can be used for a variety of agricultural projects, such as feasibility studies, business plans or as working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products, or for farm-based renewable energy projects.
“Our grant is for marketing hard ciders and wines beyond the farm door,” Beck said.
As longtime Clinton County orchard operators, the Beck family added a winery to its Uncle John’s Cider Mill four years ago. So far, the wines they produce have only been sold through their seasonal farm market. But, that is about to change.
Beck said the grant money will be used to research “shelf talk design – ways to promote the wine on the shelf.”
In addition, Beck has earmarked a portion of the grant to help pay the salary of a salesperson to market the farm’s wines and hard ciders in a seven-county area around the farm market. He plans to work on securing shelf space in stores throughout Clinton, Gratiot, Eaton, Ingham, Isabella, Jackson and Livingston counties.
It’s going to give us the ability to market our stuff beyond the farm gate,” Beck said. “It should help our business grow. It should provide jobs, and it should help us use apples.”
Value-added products are created when a producer takes an agricultural commodity, such as milk, fruits or vegetables, and processes or prepares it in a way that increases value to consumers.
“These grants support a diverse array of projects to strengthen Michigan’s agricultural economy,” said Michigan Rural Development Director Gene DeRossett. “Our goal is to find new products and techniques that foster the entrepreneurial spirit and improve the quality of life for rural residents.”
In addition to Beck’s grant, seven other Michigan agri-businesses have earned a portion of the federal dollars.
A feasibility study for processing and marketing organic retail flour and mixes will be funded by a $25,000 grant awarded to Heritage Mills LLC of Caro.
Hortech Inc. of Spring Lake will receive $300,000 to provide working capital to market vegetated modular roof systems.
Coveyou Farms of Petoskey was awarded $25,000 as working capital to initiate its value-added decorative flower production and marketing plan.
Scenic View Dairy of Hamilton will use its $14,500 award to conduct a feasibility study and develop business and marketing plans for processing and selling compressed liquefied biomethane.
Improvisational Farmer of South Haven will receive $13,000 to market fresh produce with condiments to tourists, second homeowners and local residents.
James Delekta of Rogers City will get $12,000 to conduct a feasibility study and market analysis of using pellets manufactured from raw switch grass as a renewable energy source.
A $3,000 award to John C. Stoll of Ashley will be used to develop a business plan for converting the producer’s corn for use in the corn burning stove market.
Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Mitch Irwin said this round of grant awards is just another example of the entrepreneurial spirit of the agricultural industry.
“This is going to help us keep trade jobs in the agricultural sector,” Irwin said. “It’s nothing but good news. Every time we promote a new product we create jobs.”
This farm news was published in the Oct. 11, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.