MDA unveils latest 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)

Numerous Minnesota businesses, cooperatives and nonprofts are getting an important financial boost as they work to bring clean-water crops such as Kernza and elderberries to stores.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced recipients of the first two rounds of clean-water crops market development grants.

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.

The MDA has, to date, awarded two rounds of grants, with a total of more than $500,000 going to 10 organizations. The first wave of recipients was announced in December of 2023, with the next wave being revealed in June of 2024.

Here's an overview of how each plans to use the funds:

Meet the grant recipients

Round 1

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.

Round 2

Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative — $48,000

The cooperative will look to expand marketing to existing customers, while promoting Kernza grain to new customers.

River Rock Kitchen & Baking Co. — $50,000

This small business from St. Peter, Minnesota, aims to use Kernza in at least 75% of its baked goods.

Rookie Farmers, LLC — $50,000

Rookie Farmers, LLC plans to use the grant funds to purchase a cleaning trailer for winter camelina — the oilseed that, as the Star Tribune put it, "could save the Mississippi River."

Gertens — $50,000

The business has its eye on hybrid hazelnuts, and says it will use the grant money to propagate as many as 10,000 farm-ready hybrid hazelnut plants.

MSX Nexgen Inc. — $50,000

This grant money will be used to create a regional location where clean-water crops — including winter camelina Kernza and others as needed — can be pre-cleaned, dried and stored.

Round 3

Application period open until July 15, 2025. Recipients will be selected at a later date.

There's more to come

The Legislature in 2023 approved another $500,000 for clean-water crops market development grants, and in June of 2024 the MDA announced it was accepting applications for this third round of grant funding. FMR, working alongside other members of the Forever Green Partnership, is actively advocating for additional rounds.

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 multiple years in a row. We're looking forward to continuing to find these types of opportunities in the sessions ahead."

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