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View the DBIA Grant "Helpful Hints" Webinar!

View the February 2024 Dairy Business Builder "Helpful Hints" Webinar using the button below!

View the webinar here!

Spring 2024 Deadlines

Application Opens: February 5th

Grant Webinar: February 7th

Application Deadline: April 4th

Award Notifications: Late May

Award Benefits and Terms

  • Reimbursement grants of up to $100,000 each (for eligible expenses) will be awarded.
  • Successful applicants must accept the award in writing as well as submit their Employer Identification Number (EIN) for verification.
  • Grant recipients will be reimbursed in full based on eligible expenses listed in the award letter upon providing valid documentation of payment (e.g., canceled checks, paid invoices, etc.). Reimbursement for past purchases will not be made.
  • All reimbursement submittals must occur within 12 months of the date of award.
  • Grant recipients must complete the Dairy Business Innovation Alliance (DBIA) six-month and twelve-month surveys. Failure to submit reports on time may result in reduced funding.
  • If grant dollars are used to purchase equipment or supplies, in the event of closing or selling the business or selling the equipment, grant recipients must request instructions from USDA on proper disposition of any equipment or supplies with a value greater than $5,000.

The following criteria must be satisfied to be deemed eligible for Dairy Business Builder grants:

  • Applicants represent a new or existing dairy farm or dairy manufacturing or processing facility in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The goal of the DBIA grant program is to promote the dairy industry within the 11-state region. To that end, businesses must have a business address and manufacturing locations in one or more of the eligible states and be a for-profit entity. The final decision on a company’s eligibility is at the discretion of the DBIA leadership team.
  • Applicants must have an EIN and be in good standing with the IRS at the time of the award announcement.
  • Applicants must have no immediate family members working for the Center for Dairy Research (CDR) or the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association (WCMA) or serving on the grant review committee.
  • Milk used in proposed grant projects to produce a beverage fluid milk product must meet Grade A requirements. All projects must meet all relevant state and federal requirements.
  • Applicants who have previously received grant funding from the DBIA must demonstrate that this proposed grant project represents a different project or a different phase, sales stream, etc. Previous DBIA awardees’ grant status may be taken into consideration during the review process.
  • Applicants must have a proposal that strives to meet at least one of the stated DBIA goals, which are:
    • Dairy farm diversification through dairy product development, specialization, packaging and/or marketing strategies;
    • Creation of value-added dairy products (use milk to manufacture cheese, yogurt, beverages, etc.);
    • Enhancement of the value of a dairy commodity or by-product through product development or alternate use (e.g., converting liquid whey permeate for animal feed into a product for human consumption);
    • Creation or expansion of a program for exporting dairy products. (In the Fall 2023 grant cycle, all applications related to Exports will be consider under the Dairy Industry Impact grant application. A company may submit an application to both the Dairy Industry Impact grant and the Dairy Business Builder grant in the same grant cycle for 2 different projects.)

Application Components

The application includes:

1. Business Data

2. Project Data

3. Project Details and Uploads

  • Project Summery
  • Project Work Plan and Timeline
  • Project Budget and Budget Explanation
  • Business Plan

4. Vendor Quotes

Please see “Application: How to Apply" below for instructions and application materials.

If you need assistance completing the application, or you are unable to submit an application online, please contact the DBIA Program Coordinator as soon as possible at or 608-301-7751.

Application: How to Apply

Beginning in the Fall 2023 application cycle, a new online application system is used. Please find the application instructions, registration link, and templates on the Application Guide Webpage.

If you need assistance completing the application, or you are unable to submit an application online, please contact the DBIA Program Coordinator as soon as possible at or 608-301-7751.

Helpful Hints

Before the application opens

We recommend that interested applicants begin to gather information for their application as soon as possible. The DBIA Resources webpage offers a variety of local and regional resources to assist in framing your project and writing your application..

Applicants are also encouraged to meet with their local Small Business Development Center for additional support.

The DBIA strongly encourages all applicants/potential applicants to review the recent “Let’s Get Started” webinar series posted on the DBIA website.

During the application period

  • The main application components must be submitted directly on the application form (unless otherwise specified). While you may begin to prepare documents and gather information before the application form is available, please be prepared to enter the information directly onto the form.
  • A list of commonly approved reimbursement items can be found here. Please note that these items may not be eligible depending on the context of the project, and we recommend that applicants reach out with any questions well before the application deadline.
  • The project summary should be a clear overview of what you are proposing to accomplish with DBIA grant funds and its impact on your business. The project work plan and timeline and project budget should complement the project summary to give reviewers an overview of your plan and requirements for the project.
  • The project budget should be realistically completed. This is not an operating budget, but a project management budget that demonstrates what it will take to complete the project presented in the application from a financial perspective. This would include such entries as:
    • Permit or labor costs;
    • Real estate related costs;
    • Sales and/or marketing costs where relevant; and
    • Costs or quotes and alignment for specialized equipment.
  • The business plan is a standalone document that represents the overall state of your business (even if your proposed project is currently your only business activity). There may be some overlap between the information you share on the project plans and the business plan; please do not reference other documents and ensure each document can be understood independently.
  • Applications should contain estimates on the intended business impacts of the grant funds. Examples would include:
    • Would the grant funds allow you to release or gain access to other funds (e.g., a bank loan) for a non-reimbursable project cost?
    • Would the grant funds allow you to gain knowledge from a consultant that will allow you to increase sales, productivity, production capabilities, etc.?
    • What is the estimated job creation or retention as a result of this project/initiative? (Overall size is not a factor here; e.g., a two-person company hiring one more person would be an increase of 50%.)
    • Would the project result in estimated increases in sales volume, the opening of new sales outlets and/or the opening of new markets?
    • Would the project result in improvements, efficacies, or expansions in product delivery (e.g., opening an e-commerce site)?
    • Would there be projected increases in transportation efficiencies or logistics?
    • Are there other expected business benefits as a result of this grant?
Evaluation Criteria

Applications will be scored individually by a grant review committee comprised of representatives from each of the DBIA states, Midwest Dairy, CDR, and WCMA. Each committee member will assign a score of up to 100 points to each application. All scores will then be averaged, and applications will be ranked according to the average scores. Funds will be allocated starting with the application receiving the highest average score and work downward until the funds for this cycle are exhausted. Applications will be scored based on the following criteria:

1 Overall Grant Application:

Is the project or initiative thoroughly described, well-organized, and easy to follow?

2 Project Summary, Work Plan/Timeline:

Does the project meet one or more of the DBIA goals?

How well has the applicant explained the project and their goals? Is the plan sufficiently detailed and considered?

What is the quality of the work plan or timeline? (clear timelines, milestones, etc.)

3 Business Plan:

What is the quality of the project business plan? (clear timelines, costs, deliverables, etc.)

How well has the applicant demonstrated their ability to successfully implement the project/initiative described and achieve their commercial objectives? (activities described, risk management, experience, collaborators, etc.)

How has the applicant shown leverage in this application by including their own financial equity, either through direct cash contributions or through contributing the use of existing property to this project?

4 Project Budget:

How complete is the project budget scope? Does it include such factors as labor costs, permits, and other sources of funding as well as any planned expenditures such as equipment purchases, service installation costs, etc.?

How reasonable are the estimated costs? Where appropriate, are the budget numbers supported by service provider quotes, the applicant’s written assumptions, equipment estimates, etc.?

5 Outcomes:

Does the initiative result in improved profitability and/or productivity for the applicant?

Does the initiative result in the development of a new product, an improved process, or a market expansion?

Does the initiative support the retention or addition of jobs?

USDA Eligible and Ineligible Costs

The following summarizes some of USDA-AMS allowable and unallowable costs. The categories listed below were selected based on the most popular grant requests during the previous cycle.

Final decisions regarding eligibility will be based on the AMS published list of allowable/unallowable costs found in the link below. DBIA staff is available to assist with any questions regarding what would qualify as an eligible cost. A list of commonly approved reimbursement items can be found here.

For the full guidelines, please click here: USDA Guidelines- Detailed


Unallowable for the acquisition of buildings, facilities, or land or to make additions, improvements, modifications, replacements, rearrangements, reinstallations, renovations or alterations of an existing building or facility (including site grading and improvement, and architecture fees). This also includes construction and construction-related materials,

Allowable for rental costs of land and building space. However, lease agreements to own (i.e., lease-to-own or rent-to-own) are not allowable. The lease or rental agreement must terminate at the end of the grant cycle.


Allowable subject to limitations below. Contractual/consultant costs are expenses associated with purchasing goods and/or procuring services performed by an individual or organization other than the recipient in the form of a procurement relationship.

Allowable for contractor/consultant employee rates that do not exceed the salary of a GS-15 step 10 Federal employee in the area. This does not include fringe benefits, travel, indirect costs, or other expenses.


Unallowable for acquisition costs of general-purpose equipment or lease agreements to own (i.e., lease-to-own or rent-to-own).

Allowable for rental costs of general-purpose equipment. Vehicles may be leased, but not purchased. The lease or rental agreement must terminate at the end of the grant cycle.

Allowable for acquisition costs and rental costs of special purpose equipment provided specific criteria are met: See Link for details.


General Purpose Equipment means equipment that is not limited to technical activities. Examples include office equipment and furnishings, modular offices, telephone networks, information technology equipment and systems, air conditioning equipment, reproduction and printing equipment, and motor vehicles.

Special Purpose Equipment is equipment used only for research, scientific, or technical activities.

Note: Software with an acquisition cost of more than $5000 will be considered equipment per USDA guidelines and is not allowable.


Allowable as part of employee compensation for personnel services in proportion to the amount of time or effort an employee devotes to the grant-supported project or program during the period of performance under the Federal award, including salaries, wages, and fringe benefits. Such costs must be incurred under formally established policies of the organization, be consistently applied, be reasonable for the services rendered, and be supported with adequate documentation.

Unallowable for salaries, wages and fringe benefits for project staff who devote time and effort to activities that do not meet the legislated purpose of the grant program.


Unallowable for costs designed solely to promote the image of an organization, general logo, or general brand.

Unallowable for costs for promotion of specific venues, tradeshows, events, meetings, programs, conventions, symposia, seminars, etc. that do not align with the legislated purpose of the grant program.

Unallowable for promotional items, swag, gifts, prizes, memorabilia, and souvenirs.

Allowable with conditions for projects funded under “Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program” (FMLFPP) for marketing activities directly related to the funded project. Promotional items include point-of-sale materials, promotional kits, signs or streamers, automobile stickers, table tents and place mats.

Allowable for costs designed to promote products that align with the purpose of the grant program.

USDA Guidelines- Detailed

  • Can I re-apply if I am not selected for an award? What if I’ve already received a DBIA grant in the past?

Applicants who did not receive an award in a previous cycle are strongly encouraged to re-apply. We encourage previous applicants to contact DBIA staff to receive feedback on their applications.

Applicants who were successful in a previous cycle may also re-apply, but the subsequent application must be for a different project phase or project than the one that was previously awarded and must demonstrate the success of the previous award through key benchmarks and indicators. Examples of a different project phase or project would include a new product line or a new initiative. Previous DBIA awardees’ grant status may be taken into consideration during the review process.

  • Can my company submit more than one application? Can my industry partner and I each submit separate applications related to the same project?

There is no limit on the number of applications submitted per company. However, we strongly recommend that only the best project is submitted rather than multiple applications. No more than one award will be offered per company.

We will not accept applications from more than one company related to the same project. If you have an industry partner on your project who is also interested in submitting, please do so jointly.

If your company is also submitting an application to the Dairy Industry Impact grant for a different project, it is possible that both projects will be selected for funding.

  • Can I request reimbursement for equipment I have already purchased?

No, the grants are designed to fund projects that applicants will undertake in the future. A down payment or a deposit on an equipment item does not disqualify it from grant reimbursement eligibility. However, the majority of the project activities and purchases should be planned for the grant performance period (after award notifications).

  • What if I don't have a business plan? What if I have a business plan in a different format?

Applicants must submit a business plan using the provided, required template. The business plan should be a standalone document that represents the overall state of your business (even if your proposed project is currently your only business activity). There may be some overlap between the information you share on the project plans and the business plan; please do not reference other documents and ensure each document can be understood independently. Having each applicant use the same business plan format will assist reviewers in evaluating many different applications.

There are resources available on-line and in-person to assist small businesses to develop business plans if you do not already have one. Small Business Development Centers may also be able to assist.Detailed business plans greatly assist reviewers in evaluating submitted applications.

  • How many Dairy Business Builder grants will be awarded?

The number of awards granted will vary depending on the number and quality of the applications received as well as the grant funds available for each round.

  • Are matching funds required?

No, matching funds are not required.

  • What if I need to change my proposal after I receive an award?

We understand that applicants’ circumstances may change between the time they apply for a Dairy Business Builder grant and the time the funding is awarded. If a successful applicant wishes to change the details of their grant proposal, they must notify the DBIA before the changes are made. A written amendment stating the reasons for the change is required, along with details of the changes and how they affect the application goals. The DBIA will reply in writing to approve or deny the change request.

  • How are Dairy Business Builder grant applications evaluated?

This is a competitive grant process, with eligible applications being reviewed by members of the DBIA scoring committee. The scoring committee will include a representative of each state in the region. Please see the Review Criteria section for more detailed information about the evaluation process.

Please note that the DBIA reserves the right to reject any proposal received or to offer to partially fund applications.

  • Is the information I submit confidential?

Funding applications and project reports are subject to disclosure to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). DBIA reserves the right to post funded proposals, summary reports, and survey findings in media reports and on our website ( DBIA’s grant review committee will otherwise maintain confidentiality, including of proprietary information included in project proposals.

  • What happens after I am notified of winning a Dairy Business Builder grant?

Award recipients will be notified via email of their successful application. This notification will include a list of approved items for reimbursement and the total award amount. Instructions for submitting reimbursement requests will also be included at that time.

Awardees have 12 months from the date of the award notification to make the eligible expenditures and submit reimbursement requests. A 6-month and 12-month survey will be sent by the DBIA team as required by the USDA. If an applicant requires an amendment or an extension, this must be requested prior to the 12-month initial grant term.

All notifications and surveys will be stored in the online grant system used for the application.