Nashville, Tennessee [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced funding of $38 million to help farmers and ranchers ease the impact of high energy costs and develop long-term solutions. Of that, more than $19 million in grants will support renewable energy projects and value-added agricultural business ventures.The other $18.8 million will go to 33 rural economic-development loan and grant recipients to create or save more than 2,700 jobs in 19 states. “These Rural Development funds are a part of our strategy to bolster renewable energy and will help support small businesses and value-added products,” Johanns said at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Nashville. “President Bush’s commitment and the concerns about energy costs voiced at Farm Bill Forums across the nation, inspired us to develop a comprehensive energy strategy and I am pleased to demonstrate we are following through on that strategy.” Under this year’s program, the amount that can be awarded to a producer in the form of a working capital grant has been doubled to $300,000, and $1.5 million is also being allocated to provide grants up to $25,000 to eligible producers. Again this year, priority will be given to those applicants who have at least 51 percent of project costs dedicated to bioenergy projects. To date, the program has funded $116 million in value-added grants for more than 750 recipients nationwide, including $20.5 million to develop and market renewable energy projects in 29 states. Renewable energy projects in this case include biodiesel, ethanol or wind energy production or the use of biomass to generate energy. Eligible applicants are independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures. The grants may be used for planning activities, such as feasibility studies, marketing and business plans needed to establish a viable value-added marketing opportunity for an agricultural product or to provide working capital for operating a value-added business venture, marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy projects. [USDA] Awards will be made on a competitive basis. Applications must be received no later than March 31.