SALEM, Ohio – Pennsylvania is one of 10 states to get a portion of a $10 million USDA grant to establish an agricultural innovation center.
The center is part of the Bush administration’s ongoing effort to help rural farms and businesses develop markets and add value to their products.
It will offer resources for farmers with interests from mushrooms to milk and everywhere in between.
Who gets money. Recipients splitting the $10 million in USDA grants to build agricultural innovation centers include:
Cornell University, $993,200; Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, $996,935; Michigan State University, $999,860;
Montana State University, $1 million; Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, Minnesota, $1 million;
Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, $1 million; Rutgers University, $1 million;
Kansas Department of Commerce, $1 million; Purdue University, $1 million; and
North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, $1 million.
The 2002 farm bill authorized the creation of the state centers to provide technical and business assistance.
Across the state. In Pennsylvania, the Keystone Agricultural Innovation Center won’t be a physical place, but a network of experts scattered across the state.
Those experts include extension educators as well as specialists with the state’s cooperative development center and the small business development centers, according to Cheryl Cook, deputy secretary for marketing and economic development with the department of agriculture.
Grant money will be used to pay for those specialists’ time, Cook said.
From the team. Regional department of agriculture offices should be staffed with teams of experts and extension educators before the end of the year, according to Cook.
Penn State University faculty will support those satellite offices, according to Liz Jefferies, a department of agriculture spokesperson.
Those regional offices are located in Gibsonia, Butler County; Meadville, Crawford County; and Lycoming, Wyoming, Blair, Dauphin and Chester counties.
“Going through any door will get you to the same place,” Cook said, noting the specialists will be like a “business SWAT team.”
“[The specialists] will bring a lot of expertise to the table. At the end of the day, they will increase the technical capacity of everyone they work with,” Cook said.
Use them. Each regional office will offer hands-on education and technical assistance programs.
Of special interest to farmers and entrepreneurs is help in evaluating and choosing value-added alternatives and help with marketing and business plans.
Though Cook said plans were not finalized, services would either be free or have a small charge for producers – “just enough to cover the cost of materials,” she said.
Technical assistance programs will focus on processing and other physical properties of commodities and products, management issues, and local issues that create value-added opportunities, such as farmers’ markets and regional marketing alliances, Jefferies said.
Though not limited geographically by Pennsylvania’s state boundaries, Cook said projects undertaken by the center will specifically benefit Keystone State farmers.
Get the details
* Pa. Dept. of Agriculture
Meadville regional office
* Pa. Dept. of Agriculture
Gibsonia regional office
* County extension offices
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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