Washington – D.C. [RenewableEnergyAccess.com] Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced the approval of 97 value-added agricultural product market development grants in 34 states, totaling over US$13.1 million.The grants will help farmers and ranchers increase their economic opportunities through the development of new products and markets for agriculturally based products and renewable energy applications. “The Bush Administration continues to place a high priority on creating new sources of renewable and biomass energy through such grant programs as the value-added producer grant program,” said Veneman. “Creating an energy independent nation, through utilization of our nation’s natural resources, is a valuable investment in America’s future.” In support of President Bush’s 2001 energy plan, 16 percent of the proposals selected will support biomass/renewable energy related ventures. “These grants are critical to assisting America’s farmers and ranchers increase markets for their commodities and to increase their profitability,” said Agriculture Acting Under Secretary for Rural Development Gilbert Gonzalez. “This program is a significant investment in the future of rural families and communities.” Authorized as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, the Value-Added Agricultural Product Market Development Grants program provides an opportunity to refine agricultural commodities and products to increase their value in the marketplace. Of the $13.1 million announced, $2.1 million will fund 16 proposals ranging from determining the feasibility and creating a business plan for harnessing wind energy in Colorado, to determining the feasibility of marketing ethanol from a 50 million gallon dry grind ethanol plant in Illinois, to determining the feasibility of converting dairy biogas into purity pipeline or automotive quality fuel in Idaho. The Value-Added Producer Grant program is a highly competitive grant program that garnered nearly 400 applications. An independent review of applications is conducted to ensure that selected proposals are scored based on the criteria established in the announcement of the funding availability. Funding of selected applicants will be contingent upon meeting the conditions of the grant agreement. A complete list of the selected grant recipients can be found at the USDA Rural Development web site below.