AVON, Minn. – When making on-farm advancements, every bit of financial aid can help ease the burden of implementing an improvement. For 2019, producers can once again apply for the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation (AGRI) Livestock Investment Grant.
    The grant encourages long-term industry development for Minnesota livestock farmers and ranchers by helping them improve, update and modernize their livestock operation’s infrastructure and equipment.
    “The livestock investment grant will benefit farmers and ranchers all over the state,” said Whitney Place, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Assistant Commissioner. “Minnesota livestock producers are some of the most innovative in the country. The goal of these grants is to invest in that innovation by improving production facilities that can help sustain profitability of the next generation of livestock producers.”
    The Minnesota Department of Agriculture anticipates up to $2 million in awarded grant funds. The grant program was established in 2008 through the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program to advance the state’s agriculture and renewable energy industries.
    Last year, 91 recipients were aided with grant funds, with 24 of those being dairy producers. According to Michael Greene, MDA State Program Administrator, agriculture in Minnesota receives bipartisan support, and so funding has been steady.
    “It can always be helpful to let your legislators know if you value the program,” Greene said.
    Past recipients have used grant funds to build barns, construct manure storage facilities, purchase equipment such as robotic milkers and feeders, remodel existing facilities and install fencing.
    The average amount awarded in 2018 was $21,442.19, Greene said.
    “The application review committee will rank projects higher that match the application scoring profile provided in the request for proposals,” Greene said. “For 2019, these criteria include being a new farmer, undergoing a generational transition, responding to natural disaster, accessibility improvements, economic outcomes, farm employment, diversity and inclusion, environmental impact and completeness of the application.”
    Producers are reimbursed for 10 percent of eligible expense, up to $25,000 per project and a lifetime limit of $50,000.
    Paul Dobis, of Avon, Minn., was a 2017 recipient of a livestock investment grant in the amount of $25,000.
    At Dobis Farms LLC, Dobis, and his wife, Becky, milk 235 Holsteins in four Lely robotic milking units along with aid from two part-time employees, and his uncle and dad. They manage 700 acres of land planted to corn, soybeans and alfalfa.
    Prior to building their freestall barn, the Dobises were milking 168 cows in an 84-stall tiestall barn, which has now been retrofitted into housing for dry cows.
    In 2016, while building the freestall barn, Dobis applied for the grant funds to aid in the implementation of a manure pit. The Dobises began milking in their new facility in April 2017.
    “It helps make it a lot more cost effective when getting the grant from the state,” Dobis said. “Not only from a storage stand point, but it makes it more usable manure for applying in the fields. When applicating manure in the correct time in the fields, we can get more nutrients out of the manure.”
    Dobis said he was happy with the work that was done when completing his manure pit and barn, and he would encourage others to apply for the grant.
    “Do it,” Dobis said of the grant application. “The little bit of time it takes to apply for it is well worth your time to apply for the grant. It is definitely a good thing to help cost share projects like that.”
    Shane Stangl, of Pierz, Minn., agreed with Dobis.
    “[The grant] just helps so much because of what the dairy economy has been like,” said Stangl, co-owner of Allandale Dairy. “Every penny helps. These last couple years definitely played a big role in helping us get things going on our own.”
    Allandale Dairy was the recipient of two $25,000 livestock investment grants in 2017. They are milking 550 Holsteins in a double-12 parlor. They plant corn and alfalfa on 1,200 acres of land and also operate a custom manure hauling business.
    Prior to the brothers’ ownership of the dairy, Stangl’s father and uncle were managing the farm.
    “Ten years ago, we starting buying Dad’s half of the farm,” Stangl said. “The beginning of last year, my uncle retired, and we bought his half of the farm.”
    Stangl said they learned of the grant from their financial advisor. They applied in the hopes the funds would assist them with purchasing their uncle’s portion of the farm. They were awarded the grant money in March 2017.
    “And, then around the same time there was a farm down the road that had gone bankrupt a few years ago and was empty,” Stangl said. “It was a good opportunity to raise heifers there, so we purchased that farm.”
    In the fall of 2017, Allandale Dairy was awarded an additional grant to aid in renovation of the purchased dairy farm.
    “We had to get it transitioned from cows down to heifers and youngstock,” Stangl said. “We poured concrete and redid fencing.”
    Stangl said he hopes to grow their milking herd to 700 cows, and the livestock investment grant was helpful in continuing their plans.
    “[Producers] should definitely apply,” he said. “It wasn’t that painful of a process to get it and worked well for us.”
    Livestock farmers with operations in Minnesota may apply for funding expenses invoiced and paid between Jan. 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020. Applications must be received no later than 4 p.m. Dec. 15, 2018. The online application is available at https://www.mda.state.mn.us/business-dev-loans-grants/agri-livestock-investment-grant.
    For more information about the grant, visit https://www.mda.state.mn.us/livestockinvestment or contact Michael Greene at michael.greene@state.mn.us. Or, contact the MDA grants line at 651-201-6500 (Monday-Friday) for more information.