WASHINGTON — The availability of nearly $10.5 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to help agricultural producers enter into value-added activities designed to give them a competitive business edge was announced by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

“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,” Vilsack said. “Supporting producers and businesses to create value-added products strengthens rural economies, helps fuel innovation and strengthens marketing opportunities for producers — especially at the local and regional level.”

The funding is being made available through the Value-Added Producer Grant program. Grants are available to help agricultural producers create new products, expand marketing opportunities, support further processing of existing products or goods or to develop specialty and niche products.

They may be used for working capital and planning activities. The maximum working capital grant is $200,000, and the maximum planning grant is $75,000.

Eligible applicants include independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives and agricultural producer groups. Funding priority is given to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers or ranchers and to small- to medium-size family farms or farmer/ rancher cooperatives.

The Value-Added Producer Grant program is one of many USDA programs that support the development of strong local and regional food systems as part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. Launched in 2009, the initiative strengthens ties between agricultural producers and their local communities, helping meet growing consumer demand and creating opportunities for small business development. Initiatives like this create new income opportunities for farmers, generate wealth that will stay in rural communities, and increase access to healthy, local foods in underserved communities. All of these actions boost local economies.

Since 2009, the Obama administration has provided agricultural producers with almost $80 million in Value-Added Producer Grant assistance that has supported more than 600 value-added projects.

The project is supplying emerging markets with locally grown produce to enhance production, marketing and distribution infrastructure among women and minority landowners in persistently poor rural communities.

Additional examples of how VAPGs assist local and regional food producers are available on the USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, which is searchable by ZIP code and key word.

Grant applications are due by Feb. 24. More information about how to apply is available by contacting any USDA Rural Development state office.