Farm Beat

Farm Beat: USDA promotes ‘value-added’ products

jholland@modbee.comNovember 29, 2013 

JH

JOHN HOLLAND — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John
    Email: jholland@modbee.com

Years ago, our fruit industry decided to think outside the can. That’s how we got peaches and pears in plastic cups just the right size for a kid’s lunchbox.

I got to thinking about this when I received an email this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the grants it is offering for “value-added” production. This is where you take a basic product and do something extra with it to increase the sale price. Think roasted and salted almonds, chicken ready-made for the oven, or fruit in those easy-to-open cups.

The idea is to boost the producers’ income beyond what they would get from just selling the basic products.

The USDA is offering about $10.5 million in the latest round of the Value-Added Producer Grant program. Recipients can get up to $200,000 in working capital or $75,000 in planning grants.

The agency is giving priority to socially disadvantaged applicants, beginning farmers and ranchers, small- to medium-size family farms, and farmer and rancher cooperatives.

“U.S. agriculture is connected to one in 12 American jobs, and value-added products from homegrown sources are one important way that agriculture generates economic growth,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

Value-added production is nothing new around here. I mentioned the fruit cups, turned out in large volume by the Modesto-area canneries owned by Del Monte Foods and Seneca Foods. Tomato companies, an even bigger industry, add value by slicing and dicing the crop in various ways and turning it into salsa, ketchup and pasta sauce.

Even bigger is the dairy industry, which takes milk that can quickly spoil and turns it into cheese, butter, ice cream and other products – some of which get even more processing into cheese sticks, ice cream sandwiches and other convenient items.

Walnut and almond companies don’t just sell plain nuts. They slice some and put them into packages for home cooks. They coat them in flavors ranging from blueberry to wasabi. Even the simple act of taking a nut from its shell is a value-added step, since it’s worth more to most consumers that way.

And then we have our wine industry, which turns grape juice into a product that sells at a wide range of prices, some of it in screwcap botttles that are especially easy to open.

The latest innovation I saw was plastic cups of black olives that Musco Family Olive Co. gave away to third-graders at the AgVenture event in Manteca this month. Perhaps this means a bright future for an industry that once was a stalwart in the area.

The USDA, as it seeks to expand value-added production, will find that fertile minds have long been at it in the San Joaquin Valley.

Have an idea for the Farm Beat? Contact John Holland at jholland@modbee.com or (209)578-2385.

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