Washington, D.C. [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced the availability of $14.3 million in grants that will support the development of value-added agriculture business ventures and support President Bush’s energy plan to develop alternative sources of renewable energy.“The Bush Administration is committed to working with rural farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs to increase their economic opportunities, and to create jobs that boost local economies,” said Johanns. “These grants provide America’s farmers and ranchers with the investment funds needed to expand their role in developing and marketing value-added products.” Johanns said projects with at least 51 percent of project costs dedicated to bioenergy activities will get priority consideration for the grants. To date, the Bush Administration has funded nearly $20 million in value-added development centers, and over $100 million in value-added grants, including over 80 energy projects. The renewable energy projects involve biodiesel, ethanol or wind energy production or the use of bio-mass to generate energy. The Value-Added Producer Grant program was authorized by the Agriculture Risk Protection Act of 2000 and the 2002 Farm Bill. Grants are available to independent producers, agricultural producer groups, farmer or rancher cooperatives, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures interested in a competitively-awarded grant to fund one of the following two activities: planning activities needed to establish a viable value-added marketing opportunity for an agricultural product, or to acquire working capital to operate a value-added business venture that will allow producers to better compete in domestic and international markets. Applications must be received no later than May 6, 2005. Detailed information about application and program requirements will be included in the March 7, 2005 publication of the Federal Register. USDA Rural Development’s mission is to deliver programs in a way that will support increasing economic opportunity and improve the quality of life of rural residents. As a venture capital entity, Rural Development provides equity and technical assistance to finance and foster growth in homeownership, business development, and critical community and technology infrastructure. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA’s Web site.