MDA unveils first recipients of clean-water crops grants

Gloved hands hold a bag of winter camelina seeds. They are being poured into an unidentifiable, large, green piece of machinery.

Market development grants allow entrepreneurs to focus on developing new products made with clean-water crops. (Photo by Dodd Demas for FMR)

Five Minnesota businesses and a nonprofit alliance are getting an important financial boost as they work to bring clean-water crops such as Kernza and elderberries to stores.

Recipients of the first round of clean-water crops market development grants were announced by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) earlier this month. The agency awarded a total of nearly $280,000 to six organizations, following an application and review process that started in spring of 2023.

The goal of the grants (which River Guardians helped FMR successfully advocate for) is to more quickly strengthen what are called "value chain" organizations — the businesses and groups that are essential for getting a crop from a farm to a store shelf. That can include seed processors or food manufacturers, for example. Financial support during these early stages allows entrepreneurs to innovate and focus on making better products, in turn leading to more consumer demand, more acres of clean-water crops planted in Minnesota and, ultimately, a much healthier Mississippi River.

Meet the first round of grant recipients

Take a look at each of the six recipients and how they plan to use the grant money:

Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative — $50,000

The growers cooperative will use the funds to promote and market Kernza — leading to more demand and, as a result, more products featuring the perennial grain.

Regenerative Agriculture Alliance — $50,000

The organization will purchase a mechanical harvester and two de-husking units for two hazelnut grower networks in Minnesota. (Read more about the region's emerging hazelnut industry via AgWeek.)

Perennial Pantry — $50,000

A new processing plant in Northfield, Minnesota, will allow the business to increase production of clean-water crops products, such as Kernza crackers. The grant is being used to help get that facility up and running.

Midwest Elderberry Cooperative — $50,000

The grant will help the cooperative design, build and test a prototype of a new machine for more efficiently de-stemming elderberries. 

Nine Hazels Farm — $29,657

Improvements to the farm's greenhouse operations will allow them to produce and sell seedling plugs for hybrid hazelnuts.

Dawson Drug & Gifts — $50,000

They plan to buy a new freeze dryer that will help expand the market for products made with clean-water crops — particularly fruits.

There's more to come

The Legislature in 2023 approved another $500,000 for clean-water crops market development. A second round of grantees is expected to be announced soon, and MDA plans to award more funds to supply chain organizations in 2024.

It's a sign state leaders and decision-makers understand the value of these early investments as businesses navigate all the expected challenges of launching brand new products with very new crops.

"We are really grateful to the Department of Agriculture for all their work reviewing applications, identifying deserving projects and getting funds out to these farms, cooperatives, small businesses and other organizations working with clean-water crops," said FMR Agricultural Policy Manager Peter LaFontaine. "And of course to the state lawmakers who made this funding available two years in a row. We're looking forward to continuing to find these types of opportunities in the sessions ahead."

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