Combine in Missouri farm field (copy)

Zhihan Huang/Missouri Business Alert

University of Missouri Extension is one of 33 regional partners tasked with creating a digital resource hub for small and medium-sized farms in the heartland region as a part of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative.

The $420 million federal grant will be divided among 12 geographic regions across the country. The University of Nebraska will lead the Midwest in the creation of the Heartland Regional Food Business Center.

Bill McKelvey, senior project coordinator with MU Extension, hopes the project will connect Missouri small business owners to the appropriate resources.

“The center is this opportunity for five states to work together to identify gaps in business support services, specifically related to farmers,” McKelvey said. “With that sort of analysis of the gaps, the five states can then work together to create programs and services that will help to better meet the needs of producers and food businesses.”

The initiative is expected to begin July 1; pilot grant programming will begin in six months to a year.

Professor Mary Emery, director of Rural Prosperity Nebraska and principal investigator of the USDA grant, hopes the center will combat supply-chain issues and create a more resilient agriculture industry in the Midwest.

“COVID-19 demonstrated how fragile our supply chains are when it comes to getting healthy food to consumers,” Emery said. “Strengthening small and medium-size farmers, producers and processors, (is an) important strategy for strengthening those food supply chains, and making sure that people have access to healthy foods.”

Participating in the center aligns with the university's and state officials' goals for the agriculture and food industries in the state. McKelvey anticipates that the center will aid in MU Extension’s Ag2x2030 initiative, which aims to double the value of the agriculture industry by 2030.

The grant also is designed to target underserved communities.

“There's a great deal of untapped possibilities if we can be more effective in reaching out to underrepresented groups to support smart product development, business development, and processing development,” Emery said.

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