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Notice

Inviting Applications for Value-Added Producer Grants

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Start Preamble

AGENCY:

Rural Business-Cooperative Service, USDA.

ACTION:

Notice.

SUMMARY:

This Notice announces that the Rural Business-Cooperative Service (Agency) is accepting fiscal year (FY) 2016 applications for the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program. Approximately $44 million is available to help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities for FY 2016, including approximately $30.25 million available through the Agricultural Act of 2014 (2014 Farm Bill), $10.75 million through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 and $3 million in carryover funding.

DATES:

You must submit your application by July 1, 2016 or it will not be considered for funding. Paper applications must be postmarked and mailed, shipped or sent overnight by this date. You may also hand carry your application to one of our field offices, but it must be received by close of business on the deadline date. Electronic applications are permitted via http://www.grants.gov only, and must be received before midnight Eastern Time, June 24, 2016. Late applications are not eligible for grant funding under this Notice.

ADDRESSES:

You should contact your USDA Rural Development State Office if you have questions about eligibility or submission requirements. You are encouraged to contact your State Office well in advance of the application deadline to discuss your project and to ask any questions about the application process. Application materials are available at http://www.rd.usda.gov/​programs-services/​value-added-producer-grants.

If you want to submit an electronic application, follow the instructions for the VAPG funding announcement on http://www.grants.gov. Please review the Grants.gov Web site at http://grants.gov/​web/​applicants/​organization-registration.html for instructions on the process of registering your organization as soon as possible to ensure you are able to meet the electronic application deadline. If you want to submit a paper application, send it to the State Office located in the State where your project will primarily take place. You can find State Office Contact information at http://www.rd.usda.gov/​contact-us/​state-offices.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Grants Division, Cooperative Programs, Rural Business-Cooperative Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., MS 3253, Room 4008-South, Washington, DC 20250-3253, or call 202-690-1374.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Overview

Federal Agency Name: USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

Funding Opportunity Title: Value-Added Producer Grant.

Announcement Type: Initial funding request.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number: 10.352.

Dates: Application Deadline. You must submit your complete paper application by July 1, 2016 or it will not be considered for funding. Electronic applications must be received by http://www.grants.gov no later than midnight Eastern Time, June 24, 2016 or it will not be considered for funding.

Paperwork Reduction Act

In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the paperwork burden associated with this Notice has been approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under OMB Control Number 0570-0039.

A. Program Description

The VAPG program is authorized under section 231 of the Agriculture Risk Protection Act of 2000 (Pub. L. 106-224), as amended by section 6203 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Pub. L. 113-79) (see 7 U.S.C. 1632a). Applicants must adhere to the requirements contained in the program regulation, 7 CFR 4284, subpart J, which is incorporated by reference in this Notice.

The objective of this grant program is to assist viable Independent Producers, Agricultural Producer Groups, Farmer and Rancher Cooperatives, and Majority-Controlled Producer-Based Businesses in starting or expanding value-added activities related to the Start Printed Page 20608processing and/or marketing of Value-Added Agricultural Products. Grants will be awarded competitively for either planning or working capital projects directly related to the processing and/or marketing of value-added products. Generating new products, creating and expanding marketing opportunities, and increasing producer income are the end goals of the program. All proposals must demonstrate economic viability and sustainability in order to compete for funding.

Funding priority will be made available to Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, Veteran Farmers and Ranchers, Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Operators of Small and Medium-Sized Farms and Ranches structured as Family Farms or Ranches, Farmer or Rancher Cooperatives, and projects proposing to develop a Mid-Tier Value Chain. See 7 CFR 4284.923 for Reserved Funds eligibility and 7 CFR 4284.924 for Priority Scoring eligibility.

Definitions

The terms you need to understand are defined in 7 CFR 4284.902.

B. Federal Award Information

Type of Instrument: Grant.

Fiscal Year 2016 Funds: $10.75 million.

Approximate Number of Awards: Approximately 300.

Available Total Funding: Approximately $44 million.

Maximum Award Amount: Planning—$75,000; Working Capital—$250,000.

Project Period: Up to 36 months depending on the complexity of the project.

Anticipated Award Date: September 30, 2016.

Reservation of Funds: Ten percent of available funds for applications will be reserved for applications submitted by Beginning and Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers, and an additional ten percent of available funds for applications from farmers or ranchers proposing development of Mid-Tier Value Chains. Reserved funds not obligated prior to June 30, 2016, will be used for the VAPG general competition. If this is the case, Beginning and Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers and applicants proposing Mid-Tier Value Chains will compete with other eligible VAPG applications.

C. Eligibility Information

Applicants must comply with the program regulation 7 CFR part 4284 subpart J in order to meet all of the following eligibility requirements. Applications which fail to meet any of these requirements by the application deadline will be deemed ineligible and will not be evaluated further.

1. Eligible Applicants

You must demonstrate that you meet all the applicant eligibility requirements of 7 CFR 4284.920 and 4284.921. This includes meeting the definition requirements at 7 CFR 4284.902 for one of the following applicant types: Independent Producer, Agricultural Producer Group, Farmer or Rancher Cooperative or Majority-Controlled Producer-Based Business and also meeting the Emerging Market, Citizenship, Legal Authority and Responsibility, Multiple Grants and Active Grants requirements of the section. Required documentation to support eligibility is contained at 7 CFR 4284.931.

Federally-recognized Tribes and tribal entities must demonstrate that they meet the definition requirements for one of the four eligible applicant types. Rural Development State Offices and posted application toolkits will provide additional information on Tribal eligibility.

Per 7 CFR 4284.921, an applicant is ineligible if they have been debarred or suspended or otherwise excluded from or ineligible for participation in Federal assistance programs under Executive Order 12549, “Debarment and Suspension.” In addition, an applicant will be considered ineligible for a grant due to an outstanding judgment obtained by the U.S. in a Federal Court (other than U.S. Tax Court), is delinquent on the payment of Federal income taxes, or is delinquent on Federal debt.

An Applicant may submit only one application in response to a solicitation, and must explicitly direct that it compete in either the general funds competition or in one of the named reserved funds competitions. Multiple applications from separate entities with identical or greater than 75 percent common ownership, or from a parent, subsidiary or affiliated organization (with “affiliation” defined by Small Business Administration regulation 13 CFR 121.103, or successor regulation) are not permitted. Further, Applicants who have already received a Planning Grant for the proposed project cannot receive another Planning Grant for the same project. Applicants who have already received a Working Capital Grant for the proposed project cannot receive any additional grants for that project (Proposals from previous award recipients should be substantially different in terms of products and/or markets and should not merely be extensions of previously funded projects).

2. Cost-Sharing or Matching

There is a matching funds requirement of at least $1 for every $1 in grant funds provided by the Agency (matching funds plus grant funds must equal proposed Total Project Costs). Matching funds may be in the form of cash or eligible in-kind contributions and may be used only for eligible project purposes. Tribal applicants may utilize grants made available under Public Law 93-638, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, as their matching contribution, and should check with appropriate tribal authorities regarding the availability of such funding.

Matching funds must be available at time of application and must be certified and verified as described in 7 CFR 4284.931(b)(3) and (4). Note that matching funds must also be discussed as part of the scoring criterion Commitments and Support as described in section E.1. (c).

3. Project Eligibility

You must demonstrate that you meet all the project eligibility requirements of 7 CFR 4284.922.

(a) Product eligibility. Applicants for both planning and working capital grants must meet all requirements at 7 CFR 4284.922(a), including that your value-added product must result from one of the five methodologies identified in the definition of Value-Added Agricultural Product at 7 CFR 4284.902. In addition, you must demonstrate that, as a result of the project, the customer base for the agricultural commodity or value-added product will be expanded, by including a baseline of current customers for the commodity, and an estimated target number of customers that will result from the project; and that, a greater portion of the revenue derived from the marketing or processing of the value-added product is available to the applicant producer(s) of the agricultural commodity, by including a baseline of current revenues from the sale of the agricultural commodity and an estimate of increased revenues that will result from the project.

(b) Purpose eligibility. Applicants for both planning and working capital grants must meet all requirements at 7 CFR 4284.922(b) regarding maximum grant amounts, verification of matching funds, eligible and ineligible uses of grant and matching funds, a substantive work plan and budget.Start Printed Page 20609

(i) Planning Grants. A planning grant is used to fund development of a defined program of economic planning activities to determine the viability of a potential value-added venture, and specifically for the purpose of paying for a qualified consultant to conduct and develop a feasibility study, business plan, and/or marketing plan associated with the processing and/or marketing of a value-added agricultural product. Planning grant funds may not be used to fund working capital activities.

(ii) Working Capital Grants. This type of grant provides funds to operate a value-added project, specifically to pay the eligible project expenses related to the processing and/or marketing of the value-added product that are eligible uses of grant funds. Working capital funds may not be used for planning purposes.

(c) Reserved Funds Eligibility. To qualify for Reserved Funds as a Beginning or Socially-Disadvantaged Farmer or Rancher or if you propose to develop a Mid-Tier Value Chain, you must meet the requirements found at 7 CFR 4284.923. If your application is eligible, but is not awarded under the Reserved Funds, it will automatically be considered for general funds in that same fiscal year, as funding levels permit.

(d) Priority Points. To qualify for Priority Points for projects that contribute to increasing opportunities for Beginning Farmers or Ranchers, Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers, or if you are an Operator of a Small- or Medium-sized Farm or Ranch structured as a Family Farm, a Veteran Farmer or Rancher, propose a Mid-Tier Value Chain project, or are a Farmer or Rancher Cooperative, you must meet the applicable eligibility requirements at 7 CFR 4284.923 and 4284.924 and must address the relevant proposal evaluation criterion.

Priority points will also be awarded during the scoring process to eligible Agricultural Producer Groups, Farmer or Cooperatives, and Majority-Controlled Producer-Based Business Ventures that best contribute to creating or increasing marketing opportunities for Beginning Farmers or Ranchers, Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers, and/or Veteran Farmers or Ranchers. You must meet the eligibility requirements at 7 CFR 4284.923 and 4284.924 and must address the relevant proposal evaluation criterion.

4. Eligible Uses of Grant and Matching Funds

Eligible uses of grant and matching funds are discussed, along with examples, in 7 CFR 4284.923. In general, grant and cost-share matching funds have the same use restrictions and must be used to fund only the costs for eligible purposes as defined at 7 CFR 4284.923 (a) and (b).

5. Ineligible Uses of Grant and Matching Funds

Federal procurement standards prohibit transactions that involve a real or apparent Conflict of Interest for owners, employees, officers, agents, or their Immediate Family members having a personal, professional, financial or other interest in the outcome of the project; including organizational conflicts, and conflicts that restrict open and free competition for unrestrained trade. A list (not all inclusive) of ineligible uses of grant and matching funds is found in 7 CFR 4284.926.

D. Application and Submission Information

1. Address To Request Applications

The application toolkit, regulation, and official program notification for this funding opportunity can be obtained online at http://www.rd.usda.gov/​programs-services/​value-added-producer-grants. You may also contact your USDA Rural Development State Office by visiting http://www.rd.usda.gov/​contact-us/​state-offices. You may also obtain a copy by calling 202-690-1374. The toolkit contains an application checklist, templates, required grant forms, and instructions. Although the Agency highly recommends their use, use of the templates in the toolkit is not mandatory.

2. Content and Form of Application Submission

You may submit your application in paper form or electronically through Grants.gov. Your application must contain all required information.

To submit an application electronically, you must follow the instructions for this funding announcement at http://www.grants.gov. Please note that we cannot accept emailed or faxed applications.

You can locate the Grants.gov downloadable application package for this program by using a keyword, the program name, or the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number for this program.

When you enter the Grants.gov Web site, you will find information about submitting an application electronically through the site, as well as the hours of operation.

To use Grants.gov, you must already have a DUNS number and you must also be registered and maintain registration in SAM. We strongly recommend that you do not wait until the application deadline date to begin the application process through Grants.gov.

You must submit all of your application documents electronically through Grants.gov.

After electronically submitting an application through Grants.gov, you will receive an automatic acknowledgement from Grants.gov that contains a Grants.gov tracking number.

If you want to submit a paper application, send it to the State Office located in the State where your project will primarily take place. You can find State Office Contact information at: http://www.rd.usda.gov/​contact-us/​state-offices. An optional-use Agency application template is available online at http://www.rd.usda.gov/​programs-services/​value-added-producer-grants.

Your application must contain all of the required forms and proposal elements described in 7 CFR 4284.931, unless otherwise clarified in this Notice. You are encouraged, but not required to utilize the Application Toolkits found at http://www.rd.usda.gov/​programs-services/​value-added-producer-grants, however, you must become familiar with the program regulation at 7 CFR part 4284, subpart J in order to submit a successful application. Basic application contents are outlined below:

  • Standard Form (SF)-424, “Application for Federal Assistance,” to include your DUNS number and SAM (CAGE) code and expiration date. Because there are no specific fields for a CAGE code and expiration date, you may identify them anywhere you want to on the form. If you do not include the CAGE code and expiration date and the DUNS number in your application, it will not be considered for funding.
  • SF-424A, “Budget Information-Non-Construction Programs.” This form must be completed and submitted as part of the application package.
  • SF-424B, “Assurances—Non-Construction Programs.” This form must be completed, signed, and submitted as part of the application package.
  • Form AD-3030, “Representations Regarding Felony Conviction and Tax Delinquent Status for Corporate Applicants,” if you are a corporation. A corporation is any entity that has filed articles of incorporation in one of the 50 States, the District of Columbia, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the various territories of the United States including American Samoa, Guam, Midway Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, Start Printed Page 20610or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Corporations include both for profit and non-profit entities.
  • You must certify that there are no current outstanding Federal judgments against your property and that you will not use grant funds to pay for any judgment obtained by the United States. To satisfy the Certification requirement, you should include this statement in your application: “[INSERT NAME OF APPLICANT] certifies that the United States has not obtained an unsatisfied judgment against its property and will not use grant funds to pay any judgments obtained by the United States.” A separate signature is not required.
  • Executive Summary and Abstract. A one-page Executive Summary containing the following information: Legal name of applicant entity, application type (planning or working capital), applicant type, amount of grant request, a summary of your project, and whether you are submitting a simplified application, and whether you are requesting Reserved Funds. Also include a separate abstract of up to 100 words briefly describing your project.
  • Eligibility discussion.
  • Work plan and budget.
  • Performance evaluation criteria.
  • Proposal evaluation criteria.
  • Certification and verification of matching funds.
  • Reserved Funds and Priority Point documentation (as applicable).
  • Appendices containing required supporting documentation.

3. Dun and Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) and System for Awards Management (SAM)

In order to be eligible (unless you are accepted under 2 CFR 25.110(b), (c) or (d), you are required to:

(a) Provide a valid DUNS number in your application, which can be obtained at no cost via a toll-free request line at (866) 705-5711;

(b) Register in SAM before submitting your application. You may register in SAM at no cost at https://www.sam.gov/​portal/​public/​SAM/​;​ and

(c) Continue to maintain an active SAM registration with current information at all times during which you have an active Federal award or an application or plan under consideration by a Federal awarding agency.

If you have not fully complied with all applicable DUNS and SAM requirements, the Agency may determine that the applicant is not qualified to receive a Federal award and the Agency may use that determination as a basis for making an award to another applicant. Please refer to Section F. 2. for additional submission requirements that apply to grantees selected for this program.

4. Submission Dates and Times

Application Deadline Date: July 1, 2016.

Explanation of Deadlines: Paper applications must be postmarked and mailed, shipped, or sent overnight by July 1, 2016. The Agency will determine whether your application is late based on the date shown on the postmark or shipping invoice. You may also hand carry your application to one of our field offices, but it must be received by close of business on the deadline date. If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or Federal holiday, the application is due the next business day. Late applications will automatically be considered ineligible and will not be evaluated further.

Electronic applications must be received at http://www.grants.gov no later than midnight Eastern time, June 24, 2016 to be eligible for FY 2016 grant funding. Please review the Grants.gov Web site, http://grants.gov/​applicants/​organization_​registration.jsp for instructions on the process of registering your organization as soon as possible to ensure you are able to meet the electronic application deadline. Grants.gov will not accept applications submitted after the deadline.

5. Intergovernmental Review

Executive Order (EO) 12372, Intergovernmental Review of Federal Programs, applies to this program. This EO requires that Federal agencies provide opportunities for consultation on proposed assistance with State and local governments. Many States have established a Single Point of Contact (SPOC) to facilitate this consultation. A list of States that maintain a SPOC may be obtained at http://www.whitehouse.gov/​omb/​grants_​spoc. If your State has a SPOC, you must submit your application directly for review. Any comments obtained through the SPOC must be provided to RD for consideration as part of your application. If your State has not established a SPOC or you do not want to submit your application to the SPOC, RD will submit your application to the SPOC or other appropriate agency or agencies.

6. Funding Restrictions

Funding limitations and reservations found in the program regulation at 7 CFR 4284.927 will apply, including:

(a) Use of Funds. Grant funds may be used to pay up to 50 percent of the total eligible project costs, subject to the limitations established for maximum total grant amount. Grant funds may not be used to pay any costs of the project incurred prior to the date of grant approval. Grant and matching funds may only be used for eligible purposes. (see examples of eligible and ineligible uses in 7 CFR 4284.923 and 4284.924, respectively).

(b) Grant Term (project period). Your project timeframe or grant period can be a maximum of 36 months in length from the date of award. Your proposed grant period should begin no earlier than the anticipated award announcement date in this notice and should end no later than 36 months following that date. If you receive an award, your grant period will be revised to begin on the actual date of award—the date the grant agreement is executed by the Agency—and your grant period end date will be adjusted accordingly. Your project activities must begin within 90 days of that date of award. The length of your grant period should be based on your project's complexity, as indicated in your application work plan. For example, it is expected that most planning grants can be completed within 12 months.

(c) Program Income. If income (Program Income) is earned during the grant period as a result of the project activities, it is subject to the requirements in 2 CFR 200.80, and must be managed and reported accordingly.

(d) Majority Controlled Producer-Based Business. The aggregate amount of awards to Majority Controlled Producer-Based Businesses in response to this announcement shall not exceed 10 percent of the total funds obligated for the program during the fiscal year.

(e) Reserved Funds. Ten percent of all funds available for FY 2016 will be reserved to fund projects that benefit Beginning Farmers or Ranchers, or Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers or Ranchers. In addition, 10 percent of total funding available will be used to fund projects that propose development of Mid-Tier Value Chains as part of a Local or Regional Supply Chain Network. See related definitions in 7 CFR 4284.902.

(f) Disposition of Reserved Funds Not Obligated. For this announcement, any reserved FY 2015 funds that have not been obligated by June 30, 2016, will be available to the Secretary to make VAPG grants in accordance with 7 CFR 4284.927(d).

7. Other Submission Requirements

(a) National Environmental Policy Act

This notice has been reviewed in accordance with 7 CFR part 1940, Start Printed Page 20611subpart G, “Environmental Program,” or successor regulation. We have determined that an Environmental Impact Statement is not required because the issuance of regulations and instructions, as well as amendments to them, describing administrative and financial procedures for processing, approving, and implementing the Agency's financial programs is categorically excluded in the Agency's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulation found at 7 CFR 1940.310(e)(3) of subpart G, “Environmental Program.” We have determined that this Notice does not constitute a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Individual awards under this Notice are hereby classified as Categorical Exclusions according to 7 CFR 1940.310(e), which do not require any additional documentation.

(b) Civil Rights Compliance Requirements

All grants made under this Notice are subject to title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as required by the USDA (7 CFR part 15, subpart A) and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

E. Application Review Information

Applications will be reviewed and processed as described at 7 CFR 4284.940. The Agency will review your application to determine if it is complete and eligible. If at any time, the Agency determines that your application is ineligible, you will be notified in writing as to the reasons it was determined ineligible and you will be informed of your review and appeal rights. Funding of successfully appealed applications will be limited to available FY 2016 funds.

The Agency will only score applications in which the applicant and project are eligible, which are complete and sufficiently responsive to program requirements, and in which the Agency agrees on the likelihood of financial feasibility for working capital requests. We will score your application according to the procedures and criteria specified in 7 CFR 4284.942, and with tiered scoring thresholds as specified below.

1. Scoring Criteria

For each criterion, you must show how the project has merit and why it is likely to be successful. If you do not address all parts of the criterion, or do not sufficiently communicate relevant project information, you will receive lower scores. VAPG is a competitive program, so you will receive scores based on the quality of your responses. Simply addressing the criteria will not guarantee higher scores. The maximum number of points that can be awarded to your application is 100. For this announcement, the minimum score requirement for funding is 50 points.

The Agency application toolkit provides additional instruction to help you to respond to the criteria below.

(a) Nature of the Proposed Venture (graduated score 0-30 points).

For both planning and working capital grants, you should discuss the technological feasibility of the project, as well as operational efficiency, profitability, and overall economic sustainability resulting from the project. In addition, demonstrate the potential for expanding the customer base for the agricultural commodity or value-added product, and the expected increase in revenue returns to the producer-owners providing the majority of the raw agricultural commodity to the project. You should reference third-party data and other information that specifically supports your value-added project; discuss the value-added process you are proposing; potential markets and distribution channels; the value to be added to the raw commodity through the value-added process; cost and availability of inputs, your experience in marketing the proposed or similar product; business financial statements; and any other relevant information that supports the viability of your project. Working capital applicants should demonstrate that these outcomes will result from the project. Planning grant applicants should describe the expected results, and the reasons supporting those expectations.

Points will be awarded as follows:

(i) 0 points will be awarded if you do not substantively address the criterion.

(ii) 1-5 points will be awarded if you do not address each of the following: technological feasibility, operational efficiency, profitability, and overall economic sustainability.

(iii) 6-13 points will be awarded if you address technological feasibility, operational efficiency, profitability, and overall economic sustainability, but do not reference third-party information that supports the success of your project.

(iv) 14-22 points will be awarded if you address technological feasibility, operational efficiency, profitability, and overall economic sustainability, supported by third-party information demonstrating a reasonable likelihood of success.

(v) 23-30 points will be awarded if all criterion components are well addressed, supported by third-party information, and demonstrate a high likelihood of success.

(b) Qualifications of Project Personnel (graduated score 0-20 points).

You must identify all individuals who will be responsible for completing the proposed tasks in the work plan, including the roles and activities that owners, staff, contractors, consultants or new hires may perform; and show that these individuals have the necessary qualifications and expertise, including those hired to do market or feasibility analyses, or to develop a business operations plan for the value-added venture. You must include the qualifications of those individuals responsible for leading or managing the total project (applicant owners or project managers), as well as those individuals responsible for actually conducting the various individual tasks in the work plan (such as consultants, contractors, staff or new hires). You must discuss the commitment and the availability of any consultants or other professionals to be hired for the project. If staff or consultants have not been selected at the time of application, you must provide specific descriptions of the qualifications required for the positions to be filled. Applications that demonstrate the strong credentials, education, capabilities, experience and availability of project personnel that will contribute to a high likelihood of project success will receive more points than those that demonstrate less potential for success in these areas.

Points will be awarded as follows:

(i) 0 points will be awarded if you do not substantively address the criterion.

(ii) 1-4 points will be awarded if qualifications and experience of all staff is not addressed and/or if necessary qualifications of unfilled positions are not provided.

(iii) 5-9 points will be awarded if all project personnel are identified but do not demonstrate qualifications or experience relevant to the project.

(iv) 10-14 will be awarded if most key personnel demonstrate strong credentials and/or experience, and availability indicating a reasonable likelihood of success.

(v) 15-20 points will be awarded if all personnel demonstrate strong, relevant credentials or experience, and availability indicating a high likelihood of project success.

(c) Commitments and Support (graduated score 0-10 points).

Producer commitments to the project will be evaluated based on the number of independent producers currently involved in the project; and the nature, level and quality of their contributions, including matching contributions. End-Start Printed Page 20612user commitments will be evaluated on the basis of potential or identified markets and the potential amount of output to be purchased, as indicated by letters of intent or contracts from potential buyers referenced within the application. Other third-party commitments to the project will be evaluated based on the critical and tangible nature of their contribution to the project, such as technical assistance, storage, processing, marketing, or distribution arrangements that are necessary for the project to proceed; and the level and quality of these contributions. All cash or in-kind contributions from producers, end users, or other contributors should be discussed. End-user commitments may include contracts or letters of intent or interest in purchasing the value-added product. Letters of commitment by producers, end-users, and third-parties should be summarized as part of your response to this criterion, and the letters should be included in Appendix B. Applications that demonstrate the project has strong direct financial support in the form of cash matching contributions and strong technical and logistical support to successfully complete the project will receive more points than those that demonstrate less potential for success in these areas.

Points will be awarded as follows:

(i) 0 points will be awarded if you do not substantively address the criterion.

(ii) 1-3 points will be awarded if you are the only producer participating in the project, AND show real, direct support from at least one end-user or third-party contributor.

(iii) 4-6 points will be awarded if you, as the applicant, are the only producer participating in the project, AND show strong financial commitment in the form of cash matching contributions to the project AND measurable commitment or interest in purchasing the value-added product from at least one end-user; AND commitment or tangible support from at least one other third-party contributor; OR you, as the applicant, demonstrate participation from multiple producers, AND measurable commitment or interest in purchasing the value-added product from at least one end-user; AND commitment or tangible support from at least one third party contributor.

(iv) 7-10 points will be awarded if you, as the applicant, show strong financial commitment to the project in the form of cash matching contributions, AND participation from additional producers, AND measurable commitment or interest from multiple end-users, AND commitment or tangible support from multiple third-party contributors.

(d) Work Plan and Budget (graduated score 0-20 points).

You must submit a comprehensive work plan and budget (for full details, see 7 CFR 4284.922(b)(5)). Your work plan must provide specific and detailed descriptions of the tasks and the key project personnel that will accomplish the project's goals. The budget must present a detailed breakdown of all estimated costs of project activities and allocate those costs among the listed tasks. You must show the source and use of both grant and matching funds for all tasks. Matching funds must be spent at a rate equal to, or in advance of, grant funds. An eligible start and end date for the project and for individual project tasks must be clearly shown and may not exceed Agency specified timeframes for the grant period. Working capital applications must include an estimate of program income expected to be earned during the grant period (see 2 CFR 200.307).

Points will be awarded as follows:

(i) 0 points will be awarded if you do not substantively address the criterion.

(ii) 1-7 points will be awarded if the work plan and budget do not account for all project goals, tasks, costs, timelines, and responsible personnel.

(iii) 8-14 points will be awarded if you provide a clear, comprehensive work plan detailing all project goals, tasks, timelines, costs, and responsible personnel in a logical and realistic manner that demonstrates a reasonable likelihood of success.

(iv) 15-20 points will be awarded if you provide a clear, comprehensive work plan detailing all project goals, tasks, timelines, costs, and responsible personnel in a logical and realistic manner that demonstrates a high likelihood of success.

(e) Priority Points up to 10 points (lump sum 0 or 5 points plus, graduated score 0-5 points).

It is recommended that you use the Agency application package when applying for priority points and refer to the requirements specified in 7 CFR 4284.924. Priority points may be awarded in both the general funds and Reserved Funds competitions.

(i) 5 points will be awarded if you meets the requirements for one of the following categories and provide the documentation described in 7 CFR 4284.923 and 4284.924 as applicable: Beginning Farmer or Rancher, Socially-Disadvantaged Farmer or Rancher, Veteran Farmer or Rancher, or Operator of a Small or Medium-sized Farm or Ranch that is structured as a Family Farm, Farmer or Rancher Cooperative, or are proposing a Mid-Tier Value Chain project.

(ii) Up to 5 priority points will be awarded if you are an Agricultural Producer Group, Farmer or Rancher Cooperative, or Majority-Controlled Producer-Based Business Venture (referred to below as “applicant group”) whose project “best contributes to creating or increasing marketing opportunities” for Operators of Small- and Medium-sized Farms and Ranches that are structured as Family Farms, Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (referred to below as “priority groups”). For each of the priority point levels below, applications must demonstrate how the proposed project will contribute to new or increased marketing opportunities for respective priority groups. Guidance on relevant information required to adequately demonstrate this requirement can be found in program application package.

(A) 2 priority points will be awarded if the existing membership of the applicant group is comprised of either more than 50 percent of any one of the four priority groups or more than 50 percent of any combination of the four priority groups.

(B) 1 priority point will be awarded if the existing membership of the applicant group is comprised of two or more of the priority groups. One point is awarded regardless of whether a group's membership is comprised of two, three, or all four of the priority groups.

(C) 2 priority points will be awarded if the applicant's proposed project will increase the number of priority groups that comprise applicant membership by one or more priority groups. However, if an applicant group's membership is already comprised of all four priority groups, such an applicant would not be eligible for points under this criterion because there is no opportunity to increase the number of priority groups. Note also that this criterion does not consider either the percentage of the existing membership that is comprised of the four priority groups or the number of priority groups currently comprising the applicant group's membership.

(f) Priority Categories (graduated score 0-10 points).

The Administrator of the Agency may choose to award up to 10 points to an application to improve the geographic diversity of awardees in a fiscal year.

2. Review and Selection Process

The Agency will select applications for award under this Notice in accordance with the provisions specified in 7 CFR 4284.950(a).Start Printed Page 20613

If your application is eligible and complete, it will be qualitatively scored by at least two reviewers based on criteria specified in section E.1. of this Notice. One of these reviewers will be an experienced RD employee from your servicing State Office and at least one additional reviewer will be a non-Federal, independent reviewer, who must meet the following qualifications. Independent reviewers must have at least bachelor's degree in one or more of the following fields: Agri-business, agricultural economics, agriculture, animal science, business, marketing, economics or finance; and a minimum of 8 years of experience in an agriculture-related field (e.g. farming, marketing, consulting, or research; or as university faculty, trade association official or non-Federal government official in an agriculturally-related field). Each reviewer will score evaluation criteria (a) through (d) and the totals for each reviewer will be added together and averaged. The RD State Office reviewer will also assign priority points based on criterion (e) in section E.1. of this Notice. These will be added to the average score. The sum of these scores will be ranked highest to lowest and this will comprise the initial ranking.

The Administrator of the Agency may choose to award up to 10 Administrator priority points based on criterion (f) in section E.1. of this Notice. These points will be added to the cumulative score for a total possible score of 100.

A final ranking will be obtained based solely on the scores received for criteria (a) through (e). A minimum score of 50 points is required for funding. Applications for Reserved Funds will be funded in rank order until funds are depleted. Unfunded reserve applications will be returned to the general funds where applications will be funded in rank order until the funds are expended. Funding for Majority Controlled Producer-Based Business Ventures is limited to 10 percent of total grant funds expected to be obligated as a result of this Notice. These applications will be funded in rank order until the funding limitation has been reached. Grants to these applicants from Reserved Funds will count against this funding limitation. In the event of tied scores, the Administrator shall have discretion in breaking ties.

If your application is ranked, but not funded, it will not be carried forward into the next competition.

F. Federal Award Administration Information

1. Federal Award Notices

If you are selected for funding, you will receive a signed notice of Federal award by postal mail, containing instructions on requirements necessary to proceed with execution and performance of the award.

If you are not selected for funding, you will be notified in writing via postal mail and informed of any review and appeal rights. Funding of successfully appealed applications will be limited to available FY 2016 funding.

2. Administrative and National Policy Requirements

Additional requirements that apply to grantees selected for this program can be found in 7 CFR part 4284, subpart J; the Grants and Agreements regulations of the Department of Agriculture codified in 2 CFR parts 180, 400, 415, 417, 418, 421; 2 CFR parts 25 and 170; and 48 CFR 31.2, and successor regulations to these parts.

In addition, all recipients of Federal financial assistance are required to report information about first-tier sub-awards and executive compensation (see 2 CFR part 170). You will be required to have the necessary processes and systems in place to comply with the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Pub.L. 109-282) reporting requirements (see 2 CFR 170.200(b), unless you are exempt under 2 CFR 170.110(b)). More information on these requirements can be found at http://www.rd.usda.gov/​programs-services/​value-added-producer-grants.

The following additional requirements apply to grantees selected for this program:

(a) Agency approved Grant Agreement.

(b) Letter of Conditions.

(c) Form RD 1940-1, “Request for Obligation of Funds.”

(d) Form RD 1942-46, “Letter of Intent to Meet Conditions.”

(e) Form AD-1047, “Certification Regarding Debarment, Suspension, and Other Responsibility Matters—Primary Covered Transactions.”

(f) Form AD-1048, “Certification Regarding Debarment, Suspension, Ineligibility and Voluntary Exclusion—Lower Tier Covered Transactions.”

(g) Form AD-1049, “Certification Regarding a Drug-Free Workplace Requirement (Grants).”

(h) Form AD-3031, “Assurance Regarding Felony Conviction or Tax Delinquent Status for Corporate Applicants.” Must be signed by corporate applicants who receive an award under this Notice.

(i) Form RD 400-4, “Assurance Agreement.”

(j) SF LLL, “Disclosure of Lobbying Activities,” if applicable.

(k) Use Form SF 270, “Request for Advance or Reimbursement.”

3. Reporting

After grant approval and through grant completion, you will be required to provide the following, as indicated in the Grant Agreement:

(a) A SF-425, “Federal Financial Report,” and a project performance report will be required on a semiannual basis (due 45 working days after end of the semiannual period). For the purposes of this grant, semiannual periods end on March 31st and September 30th. The project performance reports shall include the elements prescribed in the grant agreement.

(b) A final project and financial status report within 90 days after the expiration or termination of the grant.

(c) Provide outcome project performance reports and final deliverables.

G. Agency Contacts

If you have questions about this Notice, please contact the State Office as identified in the ADDRESSES section of this Notice. You are also encouraged to visit the application Web site for application tools, including an application guide and templates. The Web site address is: http://www.rd.usda.gov/​programs-services/​value-added-producer-grants. You may also contact National Office staff: Tracey Kennedy, VAPG Program Lead, tracey.kennedy@wdc.usda.gov, or Shantelle Gordon, shantelle.gordon@wdc.usda.gov, or call the main line at 202-690-1374.

H. Nondiscrimination Statement

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination against its customers, employees, and applicants for employment on the bases of race, color, national origin, age, disability, sex, gender identity, religion, reprisal, and where applicable, political beliefs, marital status, familial or parental status, sexual orientation, or all or part of an individual's income is derived from any public assistance program, or protected genetic information in employment or in any program or activity conducted or funded by the Department. (Not all prohibited bases will apply to all programs and/or employment activities.)

If you wish to file an employment complaint, you must contact your agency's EEO Counselor (PDF) within 45 days of the date of the alleged Start Printed Page 20614discriminatory act, event, or in the case of a personnel action. Additional information can be found online at http://www.ascr.usda.gov/​complaint_​filing_​file.html.

If you wish to file a Civil Rights program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form (PDF), found online at http://www.ascr.usda.gov/​complaint_​filing_​cust.html, or at any USDA office, or call (866) 632-9992 to request the form. You may also write a letter containing all of the information requested in the form. Send your completed complaint form or letter to us by mail at U.S. Department of Agriculture, Director, Office of Adjudication, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Washington, DC 20250-9410, by fax (202) 690-7442 or email at program.intake@usda.gov.

Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities and you wish to file either an EEO or program complaint please contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339 or (800) 845-6136 (in Spanish).

Persons with disabilities, who wish to file a program complaint, please see information above on how to contact us by mail directly or by email. If you require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) please contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD).

Start Signature

Dated: April 4, 2016.

Samuel Rikkers,

Administrator, Rural Business—Cooperative Service.

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 2016-08028 Filed 4-7-16; 8:45 am]

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