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$7 Million Available to Increase Competitiveness of Specialty Crops

June 28, 2017


Specialty crops. Photo credit: Lindsey Scalera.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently released a Request for Applications (RFA) for the Specialty Crop Multistate Program (SCMP), a component of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Approximately $7 million will be available to fund projects from state departments of agriculture on a competitive basis, which will in turn award grants to collaborative, multi-state projects that address the following regional or national specialty crop issues:

  • Food safety;
  • Plant pests and disease;
  • Research;
  • Crop-specific projects addressing common issues;
  • Marketing and promotion.

In particular, AMS is encouraging proposals that will:

  • Improve producer and facility capacity to comply with the requirements of Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA);
  • Develop adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers in drought-stricken regions of the country;
  • Increase opportunities for new and beginning farmers;
  • Develop strong local and regional food systems;
  • Protect pollinator habitats and improve pollinator health;
  • Support the growth of organic specialty crops;
  • Benefit underserved communities and veterans;
  • Involve contributions to the project by partners of cash and/or in-kind resources as appropriate.

Of those proposal categories, only the first one – projects that will improve capacity for FSMA compliance – will be given priority status.

Logistical Details

Administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), SCMP funds projects that foster the competitiveness of specialty crops. The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 defines specialty crops as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” To be considered specialty crops, crops also must be used for consumption, medicinal value, or aesthetic value.

The minimum award size is $250,000 and the maximum award size is $1,000,000,000. Awarded projects must be completed within three years.

Eligible Applicants

SCMP projects must be developed by multi-state partnerships working on innovative solutions that benefit specialty crop growers in multiple states. Multi-state partners can include, but are not limited to:

  • State departments of agriculture, state agencies, or tribal governments;
  • Land grant or state universities or colleges;
  • Specialty crop producer organizations;
  • Non-profit organizations and community-based organizations.

While multi-state partnerships can be made up of various types of organizations, only state departments of agriculture are eligible to apply for SCMP awards. To be eligible to do so, state departments of agriculture must first notify the USDA that they would like to participate. State departments of agriculture must inform AMS of their participation status by July 11, 2017.

Participating state departments of agriculture help administer SCMP projects by, for example: handling inquiries from the public, developing internal procedures to screen applications for eligibility under the RFA, and accepting administrative responsibility for those applications ultimately selected for funding.

Multi-state partners are required to submit applications determined to meet the terms of the RFA to participating states. The deadline for applications to be submitted to participating states is September 25, 2017. Participating states will then submit the applications, after review to ensure they meet the requirements of the RFA, to AMS via www.grants.gov. The deadline for applications to be submitted to AMS is October 24, 2017.

A participating state department of agriculture that develops its own proposal can submit it directly to AMS along with other proposals determined to meet the RFA requirements. Non-participating state departments of agriculture must submit their proposals to a participating state department of agriculture, which can in turn submit the proposal to AMS if it meets the RFA requirements. An entity other than a state department of agriculture may develop a SCMP proposal, but only a participating state department of agriculture may submit the proposal to AMS.

SCMP and Food Safety Training and Outreach

Created in the 2014 Farm Bill, SCMP includes food safety as a focus area for funding to assist farmers and local and regional food processors in developing and following food safety practices that will comply with new FSMA regulations. In addition to programs like the Food Safety Outreach Program, SCMP can function as a critical source of funding for projects serving the food safety training and outreach needs of producers and local and regional food processors.

Among the types of projects that may be funded by SCMP are those that:

  • Improve detection, monitoring, control, and response to potential food safety hazards in the production, processing, and handling of specialty crops;
  • Develop procedures and mechanisms and provide assistance/education in implementing Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), or Good Handling Practices (GHP) on a national or regional level;
  • Conduct research focused on issues (such as die-off rates/survival rates of pathogens) related to (1) water quality; or (2) use of biological soil amendments of animal origin, on similar agro-ecological regions or localities;
  • Apply new or improved food processing technologies to prevent and reduce foodborne pathogen loads in specialty crops;
  • Strengthen national and regional traceback systems; promote an outbreak response system that shortens the time between outbreak detection, resolution, and recovery; and improve methods for communicating with consumers about traceback and foodborne illness outbreaks;
  • Improve national support and coordination of food safety programs by conducting national and regional conferences, building collaborative networks, and exchanging information about integrated food safety.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is pleased to see the adoption of many of our recommendations in the SCMP RFA, including recommendations that projects:

  • Conduct training in the field (and not solely training restricted to the classroom);
  • Utilize both Produce Safety Alliance and other FDA-recognized training and resources for producers and/or processor training or education; and
  • Provide for translation or interpretation services for farmers with limited English proficiency to achieve project goals.

For More Information

More information on SCMP is available on the SCMP website: www.ams.usda.gov/scmp or by contacting Martin Rosie by email: Martin.Rosier@ams.usda.gov or by phone: (202) 260-8449.


Categories: Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Marketing and Labeling


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