WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday $300 million in funding for more than 60 groups seeking to diversify American agricultural exports.

“USDA is pleased to be able to provide the startup capital to tap into these opportunities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on a call with reporters Monday night previewing the announcement.

The money awarded includes $9.38 million for the Southern United States Trade Association, a New Orleans-based organization that promotes exports from medium-sized agriculture businesses in the region.

In total, 66 organizations will be funded under the new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program, or RAPP. The USDA launched the $1.4 billion program in October in order to develop new export markets for U.S. food and agricultural products beyond the traditional partnerships with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and China.

“What this program really provides is an opportunity for us not only to expand geographically the opportunities for trade, but also the products that can be made available,” Vilsack said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to diversify in a variety of different ways to grow market opportunity.”

The program focuses on tapping U.S. exports into new markets in regions such as South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.

“When you have the major markets, as we’ve had, where 60 to 65% of what we export goes into four or five markets, that can create a sense of complacency,” Vilsack said.

‘The riskiest business in the world’

Vilsack said the funding would be an important step in building wealth in rural areas of the United States.

“We want to make sure our foreign-market development programs and agricultural trade in general work for the full spectrum of American agricultural producers, regardless of their size, their location, their product or target market,” he said. “By investing in exports, we’re investing in the future of American agriculture and rural communities.”

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who leads the Senate Committee on Agriculture, joined the call with reporters. She said that USDA investing in exports is crucial to growing American agriculture.

“The bottom line is (to) create new revenue for the folks that have the riskiest business in the world,” Stabenow said. “This is a really important way to support them.”

According to a list provided by the USDA, some of the grant recipients include:

The Hazelnut Marketing Board in Oregon and Washington state will receive $455,000 to conduct market research and trade missions in several countries in Africa.
The U.S. Dairy Export Council, based in Virginia, will receive $10 million to expand its presence in Africa by using the funds to study and develop dairy import regulations and regulatory frameworks in those markets.
The U.S. Meat Export Federation based in Colorado will be awarded $21 million to expand its export efforts to new markets throughout Africa. It will also expand its investment in the convenience-store industry in South Korea, Central America and Colombia.
The Brewers Association in Colorado will be awarded $2 million to partake in the craft beer scene in Southeast Asia, by participating in the region’s premier brewing trade show and festival and bring buyers from that region to top trade shows in the US.
The Cranberry Institute in Massachusetts will receive $1 million to conduct trade education seminars and other events to identify opportunities in India, Brazil, Colombia and Southeast Asia.


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