Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday announced $101 million in grants to support America's specialty crops producers in developing local and regional markets, improving access to food and allow growers to improve profitability through better business decisions.
Approximately $55 million of the total will be invested in 56 specialty crop block grants to states that fund initiatives that strengthen markets and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers.
Some of the Specialty Crop Block grants initiatives include increasing nutritional knowledge, distribution efficiency, proper handling and processing and research projects. The program also supports developing new seed varieties, controlling pests, and expanding access to food in food desert communities.
An additional $46 million will go to support new and continuing research and extension activities to address challenges and opportunities for growers and businesses that rely on the specialty crops industry.
"By investing in projects that stimulate growth and development for specialty crop growers of all sizes, we're helping American farmers establish a marketplace for new businesses opportunities in each region of the country," Vilsack said.
In a press call Monday, Vilsack said the grants are programs that will not be continued unless a farm bill is passed.
"October 1 is the start of a new fiscal year, but it also is the end of many of the programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill," Vilsack said. He explained that USDA funding won't allow continuation of many programs after Oct. 1.
"These are some of the casualties of Congressional inaction," Vilsack said. "It's unfortunate, but hopefully when Congress returns after the election they will focus on getting this five-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill done."
Specialty Crop Research
Vilsack's announcement also highlighted $46 million in new and continuing grants through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which supports the specialty crop industry by developing science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops.
Funded projects address five focus areas: improving crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; addressing threats from pests and diseases; improving production efficiency, productivity and profitability; developing new innovations and technologies and developing methods to improve food safety.
SCRI projects are funded through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and address research and extension needs for crops that span the entire spectrum of specialty crops production.
USDA awarded two research grants to the University of Wisconsin, totaling roughly $6 million. One of the projects seeks to improve vegetable production and processing by developing tools to understand the role of consumer markets. The second grant will support ongoing work to reduce naturally-occurring compounds from forming in potatoes during high-temperature cooking processes.
Most SCRI projects involve public and private sector collaborations, leading to multistate, multi-institutional or trans-disciplinary efforts. To leverage NIFA's investment and increase potential impact from federal funding, SCRI recipients are required to provide a 100% match in funds from non-federal sources.
Visit www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp to review the 2012 specialty crop block grant project summaries and view a list of awards by location.
For a full list of SCRI awards, please click here.