Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 2.45.31 PMThe innovative spirit of farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses alike is alive and well in North Dakota. And for almost four decades, the Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) has been helping fund marketing, product development and diversification projects for hundreds of agribusinesses and innovators.

Established in 1979 by the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Economic Development & Finance Division, the program has played a hand in helping strengthen the economy and ensure the vitality of the state’s agriculture industry. Every two years, the program invests between $3 million and $5 million in grant funding to some 100 companies – companies such as BisMan Community Food Co-op in Bismarck, which brings together local producers to sell directly to consumers who purchase membership rights to portions of the farmers’ crops each quarter, providing an additional revenue source for family farms.

Helping Connect Farmers to New Markets

The APUC grant helped the fledgling co-op hire an outreach coordinator and conduct a feasibility study to gauge interest.

“It was just phenomenal,” BisMan General Manager Randy Joersz says. “The overwhelming response from the study was that people wanted more out of their food and they wanted to know where their food was coming from. People wanted the local food.”

The BisMan Co-op was established in 2013 with some 300 memberships and has quickly grown to include more than 1,700 members. It works with 20 fruit and vegetable producers, as well as local and statewide beef, pork, lamb, and even buffalo producers.

“The producers we’re working with are just remarkable. They raise their products organically and with non-GMO feed,” Joersz says.

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produceHelping to Promote Ag

Another company that took advantage of APUC funding is Prairie Roots Co-op in Fargo. Kaye Kirsch, marketing director for the co-op, says the APUC was an instrumental partner in bringing Prairie Roots Food Co-op to the Fargo region. The co-op is slated to open in early 2017.

“They funded our initial feasibility study when the co-op was just an idea in a few minds, and provided marketing resources to grow our membership and launch our store,” Kirsch says.

The co-op works with dozens of local producers to create strong connections between farmers, ranchers and consumers through education and promotion.

The co-op store will feature informational placards on its products to show where and how food was grown, host in-store events, and produce “Meet Your Farmer” events with guest speakers and cooking demonstrations.

“Because food co-ops are locally owned and have strong ties to the local farmers and ranchers, they do a great job of telling the story of the farmers and the farms where the food is grown,” Kirsch says.

Helping Value-Added Producers Stay Strong

John Schneider, APUC director, says promotion of the state’s agriculture industry is one of the main missions of the grant program, as is economic vitality.

“When the APUC was established in 1979, North Dakota was shipping a lot of raw agricultural commodities out of the state and letting other states and other companies add value to it. Our farmers weren’t really reaping the benefit of value added,” Schneider says. “The APUC was established to help companies – particularly value-added companies – start up and find ways to use our raw agricultural commodities.”

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Schneider says most companies that apply for the grants use the funds for marketing efforts – market plans, feasibility studies and actual promotion.

The APUC program offers grants within seven different categories, including biodiversification, value- added food processing, agritourism and technology. Schneider cites as an example the investment in ethanol plants around the state, which he says has helped raise the base price of corn.

“I think in North Dakota as a whole, having those facilities here and utilizing North Dakota-grown corn, it saves them money so they can offer a little higher price to the farmers who are delivering it,” he says. “That’s really our mission – helping value-added businesses that in turn help the farmers. That’s what we’ve stood for since 1979, and we’re staying true to that mission.”

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