U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack tours Dan and Debbie’s Creamery on June 28, 2022, in Ely, Iowa. The former Iowa governor announced a new grant program to address agricultural waste at the facility. (Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)
ELY, Iowa — U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, during an eastern Iowa visit Tuesday, announced a $10 million initiative to help farms and businesses find uses for waste byproducts.
The grant program is one piece of President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure law, passed in November. Vilsack said the initiative will help build a bio-based economy in America by finding ways to turn agriculture residue into products for consumers and construction.
“What does that mean? It means taking everything that’s grown and raised and produced on a farm, and turning it into something more valuable,” Vilsack said. “That includes not just the corn and soybeans, not just the livestock that can be processed, but also all of the waste product.”
Applications are now open for the grants for the next several months. But the grants are not meant to fund these new ventures indefinitely, Vilsack said. The $10 million will serve as a “supply chain roadmap” for farms, businesses and publicly financed institutions — a first stop as they develop new products and uses for agricultural waste.
After getting this initial grant, Vilsack said recipients will be able to more easily navigate the grant and loan processes from other sources. Iowa farmers can apply for other grants available through United States Department of Agriculture agencies including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency and USDA Rural Development.
Vilsack said there are millions of dollars of assistance available and the grants from Biden’s infrastructure bill will serve as a starting point to these other programs.
“The key here is for folks to see the roadmap, to see how you can make it happen,” Vilsack said. “And once you understand it, you’re not as fearful about searching for other programs. You’re not as fearful, you’re not as intimidated.”
Vilsack said these grants could help small Iowa agricultural businesses such Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely, where the event was held. Before his announcement, Vilsack toured the facilities with Josie Rozum, the company’s director of operations, which include a production floor for bottling milk, as well as a retail area for selling ice cream made in-house and products from other area farmers.
USDA’s grant programs were made to support businesses like the creamery, which create jobs and build local economies in places like rural Iowa, Vilsack said. The infrastructure bill grant specifically will help make agricultural economies more sustainable, he said.
Jill Zullo, the managing director of Bio-Intermediates for Cargill, a Midwest-based global food corporation, said the company is building a $300 million facility in Eddyville, Iowa, which will produce 1,4-butanediol, a chemical which can be converted into spandex.
The company would extract the chemical from corn dextrose, which is also converted into products like ethanol and citric acid. While the process is not using waste product, it does offer a more sustainable way to make spandex — making the material from corn instead of petroleum.
“The whole reason why we’re doing this is to offer a more sustainable solution,” she said. “And farmers doing regenerative practices allows us to continue to lower those greenhouse gases.”
The USDA wants to support initiatives like these, even when they do not use agricultural waste explicitly, Vilsack said. These sort of innovations help restore America’s agricultural supply chains, he said.
“That’s part of the future,” Vilsack said. “That’s what this grant is basically designed to accelerate, and to develop: How do we do more of that?”
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