State unveils $5 million grants for livestock farmers, small meat plants

Illinois launched a $5 million grant program Thursday to help livestock farmers and small meat and poultry plants offset COVID-19 business losses. The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) will administer the program funded with federal CARES Act dollars and part of Illinois’ Business Interruption Grants program.

Through Oct. 31, grant applications are only being accepted online.

Focusing on agriculture’s importance to Illinois’ economy, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said, “On behalf of all Illinoisans, I want to offer my appreciation to the members of our agricultural community whose hard work has ensured food was available amidst the worst pandemic of our lifetimes.”

IDOA will award grants through three programs: swine depopulation, agriculture business interruption and meat and poultry capacity program. Individuals may apply for only one of the three programs. Those in Kane, Lake, Will, DuPage and Cook counties aren’t eligible because those counties received direct coronavirus relief allotments.

“I’m proud of the way Illinois’ farmers, small businesses and commodity groups came together to keep the food chain secure,” said Jerry Costello II, acting IDOA director. “These dollars enable farmers’ continuity of operations while providing our small meat and poultry plants the ability to make necessary improvements.”

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. added, “We appreciate the collaborative efforts by Director Costello and the Illinois Department of Agriculture staff to coordinate assistance for Illinois livestock producers with the newly announced Business Interruption Grants program.”

IDOA worked with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to mobilize financial assistance through the Business Interruption Grant program.

In a FarmWeek interview, IDOA Deputy Director Kristi Jones outlined eligible expenses and required application information for the programs.

Swine Depopulation Program covers hog farmers’ costs and expenses associated with depopulation and disposal of animals starting April 15 due to COVID disruption of the livestock market.

Applicants may apply for a maximum of five depopulation incidents for up $10,000 in losses. Farmers who received Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) environmental quality incentive program (EQIP) and swine depopulation funding are ineligible.

Applicants need to supply a premise identification number; those who don’t have one may apply to IDOA, Jones said. Also required: inventory records, a completed veterinary certification form signed by the farmer’s veterinarian, a W-9 tax form and certification that no federal funding was received.

Agriculture Business Interruption program covers COVID-related losses and expenses of swine, beef cattle, dairy cattle, lambs, meat goats and poultry from April 15 to May 15. Eligible expenses include costs to hold animals for longer periods, such as feed, veterinary expenses, weight management and additional consultation. Farmers may apply for up to $10,000.

Applicants need to submit a W-9, inventory records and certify they didn’t receive any additional funds through the CARES Act. Applicants will enter the species and number of animals in the online application; an “autocalculator” will handle computations, Jones explained. Dairymen will need to add pounds of milk produced.

Meat and Poultry Capacity program covers operations and improvement costs related to COVID-related slowdowns and to mitigate capacity reductions between March 1 and Dec. 30. Applicants must have 60 or fewer employees and may apply for a maximum $25,000 in eligible expenses. Jones’ examples of eligible expenses included additional freezer space, line changes, signs, plexiglass shields and worker safety consultation and training.

Applicants must have a USDA or state meat and poultry license or a custom exempt slaughter facility document. Applicants may also have applied for USDA or state license, but will need to submit evidence of that, Jones noted. Applicants may apply for a pre-award and provide IDOA an expense report after making the purchase, Jones added.

“This is not a first-come, first-served” application process, Jones emphasized. “We want this to be equitable to producers large and small. We have a tight window, but we are giving them a month. If they want to drop an email question at 11 p.m. at night, they’ll have an answer in their inbox after that (IDOA) person comes to work the next morning.”

Similar to other Business Interruption Grant awards, preference will be given to farms and business in disproportionately impacted areas as defined in legislation. A list of those zip codes is available here. Jones explained those areas extend north to south and east to west “and many rural counties are included.”

In addition to online applications and program information, Jones said a “living document” of frequently asked questions and answers is online and updates as applicant questions surface.

The deputy ag director said IDOA staff will handle applications “as quick as possible,” but award letters would not be distributed until after applications close Oct. 31.

“We know there has been uncertainty throughout the spring, summer and fall,” Jones said. “As we embark on harvest, we want to give producers some confidence in this grant package.”

For more information on the business grant program, click here and email questions to AGR.Grants@illinois.gov.