U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Oct. 2 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest nearly $118 million in grants to strengthen markets for specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and horticulture and nursery crops.
The grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill as part of an effort to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and provide resources to strengthen American agriculture. Vilsack made the announcement in Florida.
“Specialty crop grants provide a major boost to the rural economies,” Vilsack says. “Today’s announcement is another example of how the USDA is implementing the Farm Bill to deliver critical tools producers need to successfully grow, process and market high-quality products.”
Sales of specialty crops total nearly $65 billion per year, making them a critical part of the U.S. economy. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), will provide $66 million to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits and vegetables, through research and programs to increase demand. In addition, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is awarding $51.8 million in grants through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). SCRI supports the specialty crop sector by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops.
All 50 States, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. Territories were awarded Specialty Crop Block Grants that will fund a total of 838 projects. The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) will receive $4.5 million to fund 34 projects. One project allows the FDACS to partner with Miami-Dade County to increase the market viability of local specialty crops. The project also educates the public about consumption of specialty crops to improve nutrition and publicizes the availability of specialty crops at local markets.
“These Specialty Crop Block Grants support hundreds of projects that address issues ranging from food safety to research needs to increased access to fruits and vegetables, all benefiting specialty crop producers and consumers across the country,” AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo says. “With additional funding from the 2014 Farm Bill, we are able to do even more to help specialty crop growers increase profitability and sustainability.”
Through SCRI, the USDA is awarding $51.8 million to fund research and Extension projects for specialty crop production. The grants fund a wide variety of efforts, including research to improve crop characteristics, identifying and addressing threats from pests and diseases, improving production and profitability, developing new production innovations and technologies and developing methods to respond to food safety hazards.
Since the enactment of the Farm Bill, the USDA has made progress implementing each provision, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers, strengthening risk management tools, expanding access to rural credit, funding critical research, establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships, developing new markets for rural-made products and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve the quality of life in rural America.
For more information, visit USDA.gov/farmbill.