Flame resistant clothing and cups made from corn-based fibers. Dairy bottles made from corn-based plastics. New energy sources through agriculture. These are just a few of the many examples of value-added products that Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman says are bringing new opportunities to U.S. farmers and producers.

The Secretary joined Governor Mike Johanns for a tour of the Cargill Dow LLC facilities in Blair, NE, to see first-hand some of the new innovations in value-added agriculture. To help boost investment in these types of ventures, Veneman announced that the Department of Agriculture is providing $33 million in grants to producer-owned processing businesses for value-added agricultural development. Priority will be given to proposals that emphasize the development of renewable energy from agricultural production and the use of innovative technologies to develop value-added products.

"Agriculture is one of the most technically-advanced industries in America and these grants will promote more innovation and opportunities for producers,"says Veneman. "In addition to opening new markets for agricultural products, these grant funds will encourage further exploration and development of alternative energy sources as outlined in the President's energy plan."

The Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grants program as authorized under the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, is designed to encourage independent producers of agricultural commodities to process their raw products into marketable, value-added goods, thereby increasing farm income.

Ventures in which agricultural producers add value to their products through processing, segregation, or other means are eligible to apply for grants.

Grants can be awarded for such activities as conducting feasibility analyses, developing business and marketing plans, or using as working capital while the venture develops cash flow.

Grant funds cannot be used for the development or acquisition of buildings or other facilities, or to purchase, rent or install fixed equipment. The maximum allowable grant amount is $500,000, and grant recipients must provide 1-to-1 matching funds.

Application criteria and deadline can be obtained by contacting any USDA Rural Development state offices, or through its Web site at: www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/coops/vadg.htm .