LOUDON, NH – The US Department of Agriculture announced funding for a grant program aimed at helping beginning farmers and ranchers, and supporting local and regional food systems.

The Value-Added Producer Grant program is a $25 million investment in agricultural producers trying to turn raw commodities into value-added products. The program also supports marketing and development of new uses for existing products. The grant is provided through USDA's Rural Development agency.

"The funding we are announcing today will have far-reaching, positive impacts in rural communities across the country," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The investments will help businesses create new products, expand their operations, and support local and regional food systems. The new Farm Bill expands this program to provide even more of these opportunities."

USDA has awarded 863 grants since 2009. Beef producers have been beneficiaries of the program. Miles Smith Farm LLC in Loudon has been selected to receive a grant for $127,732 to market and produce burgers made from 55 percent grass-fed beef and 45 percent organically raised pork. The farm already produces "the burger that squeals with flavor", but expanding sales has been difficult because the farm has no marketing budget or sales staff. Carole Soule and Bruce Dawson of Miles Smith Farm, said they plan to use the grant to produce, distribute and promote the beef and pork burgers.

North Hollow Farm LLC in Rochester, Vt., will use a grant of $161,204 to expand processing and marketing of grass-fed beef and natural meats.

USDA is awarding Value-Added Producer Grants in 46 states, Puerto Rico and Micronesia. Funding was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill.