Nashville, Tennessee [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced funding availability of more than USD $19 million in grants to support the development of renewable energy projects and value-added agricultural business ventures.The Value Added Producer Grant program encourages the development of renewable energy projects and is part of a comprehensive energy strategy announced by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns in early December to help farmers and ranchers mitigate the impact of high energy costs and develop long-term solutions. 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 of $25,000 or less to eligible producers. Again this year, priority consideration will be given to those applicants who have at least 51 percent of project costs dedicated to activities for a bioenergy project. To date, the program has funded $116 million in value-added grants for over 750 recipients nationwide, including $20.5 million to develop and market renewable energy projects in 29 states. Renewable energy projects include biodiesel, ethanol or wind energy production, or the use of biomass to generate energy. 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 farm-based renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures. Awards will be made on a competitive basis. Applications must be received no later than March 31, 2006. Detailed information and program requirements were included in the December 21st, 2005, publication of the Federal Register.