University News

Value Added Center at Western Receives USDA Grant

September 23, 2005

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MACOMB, IL – The Illinois Value-Added Rural Development Center (IVARDC), a division of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at Western Illinois University, has been awarded $287,780 from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program to help cooperatives start or expand across Illinois, ultimately raising farm income for agricultural producers.

According to IVARDC Manager Mary Holmes and IIRA Director Chris Merrett, the center at Western is working with 30 cooperatives, producer groups and communities to ensure that agriculture is integrated into local economic development strategies.

“We help cooperatives evaluate their current conditions and develop a strategy for their future. We also work with existing cooperatives to develop feasibility studies, business plans, marketing plans and equity drives,” Holmes explained. “It’s also one of our goals to help build the leadership capacity of cooperative boards to develop value added ventures.”

Holmes added that one of the center’s major successes to date is the equity drive by Illini Bio-Energy, an agricultural cooperative that proposes to build a 50-million gallon ethanol plant. With help from the center, Illini Bio-Energy received and processed more than $25 million in subscriptions from 759 investors. The center has also helped prepare and conduct a survey of the Chicago area to evaluate the market for Illinois produced organic grass-fed dairy products. The center’s other projects include working with producers of blue cheese and organic meat, wood fuel pellet and ethanol, biodiesel and wind energy production.
"Cooperatives allow individuals and small businesses to pool their resources, achieve economies of scale and develop more sophisticated technical and management skills," said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns. "These investments will help farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses obtain the technical support they need to expand their businesses."

Over the last two years, the IVARDC at Western has been awarded $476,824 in Rural Cooperative Development Grant funds. For more information, visit or call 800/526-9943.

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing