SEFFNER — Gone are the days when simply growing a crop or milking cows is enough. To make profits now, farmers often plant three crops or opt out of the business entirely, selling their land to developers.
But there's another option, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $18 million to help.
Farmers can increase their profits by adding value to what they're already doing. Strawberry farmers could turn their crops into jam. Tomato growers could can their harvest.
The department offers matching grants to farmers or agriculture groups around the country who show how they can increase the value of traditional operations.
Those interested in applying for the grants may attend a workshop Tuesday at the county's extension office.
Since the program's start in 2001, no one in Hillsborough County has received the grant. This year, the county's Agriculture Industry Development program and extension office are encouraging local producers to apply.
Program director Stephen Gran said it's especially important in Hillsborough County, where farmers need to compete with land-hungry developers.
"Farmers need to find another way to make a profit," he said.
Frankie Hall, the executive director of the Florida Pork Improvement Group, said the value-added grant his group received in 2005 has already helped two farmers. He hopes it will reach more.
The group, which is based in Gainesville, received $71,120 from the Agriculture Department to devise a business model for pork producers who want to market and sell "all-natural" pork products to high-end restaurants and grocery stores, such as Whole Foods.
"It's been very successful," he said.
But he advised farmers to research the grant and write a detailed proposal because it's very competitive.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2443.