Specialty Crop Block Grants

Important Update:

Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill. 

Helping farmers who raise fruits, vegetables, and nuts with improved training, infrastructure, and marketing

Traditional farm bill commodity programs that support grain, oilseed, cotton, and milk production do not serve specialty crop producers, who provide the country with fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts. Specialty crops have benefited from federal marketing and research programs, but historically had not had a direct aid program within the farm bill. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) addresses the desire for greater federal help for fruit and vegetable producers by providing grants to state departments of agriculture to support projects that enhance the competiveness of specialty crops. SCBGP funds can support a wide array of projects such as value-added processing businesses, food hub development, farmer food safety training, and farm to school initiatives.

Learn More About SCBGP!

Program Basics

SCBGP has been supporting specialty crop producers and consumers since 2006. Projects can focus on a variety of outcomes, including:

  • Increasing nutritional knowledge and specialty crop consumption;
  • Improving efficiency within the distribution system;
  • Promoting food safety and good agricultural, handling, and manufacturing practices while encouraging audit cost-sharing for small farmers and processors;
  • Supporting research, developing improved seed varieties, and controlling pests and diseases;
  • Creating organic and sustainable production practices;
  • Establishing local and regional food systems and “Buy Local” programs;
  • Developing school and community gardens and farm-to-school programs; and
  • Expanding access to specialty crops in underserved communities.

SCBGP provides grants on an annual basis to assist state departments of agriculture in enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops. To receive grants, states must submit an application to USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) outlining how the grant funds would be spent. Often, states partner with nonprofit organizations, producer groups, and colleges and universities to develop their application and administer the program. States can use the block grants to supplement state-run specialty crop programs and/or make grants available for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.


Only State Departments of Agriculture are eligible to apply for the block grants, though they often solicit ideas from or partner with nonprofit groups, producer groups, and colleges and universities to develop their applications. States often choose to re-grant a substantial portion of their funding.   Sometimes, they award grants to pre-selected projects and sometimes states award grants through an open, competitive application process.

In most years, approximately three-quarters of states’ funds go to competitive grants. Eligibility for those state-issued grants is determined by the state. One notable limitation is that grant funds cannot be used to solely benefit a single organization, institution, or individual but rather must be used for projects that impact and produce measureable outcomes for the specialty crop industry and consumers.

The Program in Action
Since 2008, SCBGP has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to enhance the competitiveness of and increase the consumption of specialty crops within the United States. In Fiscal Year 2015 alone, SCBGP funded 755 projects in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. Of those 755 projects, 22 percent went to marketing and promotion projects, 27 percent went to education projects, 20 percent went to research projects, 11 percent went to pest and plant health projects, 7 percent went to food safety projects, 7 percent went to production projects, and 6 percent went to other types of projects.

SCBGP funds have been used to:

  • Partner with Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) In NC: to provide on-farm high tunnel production training to 170 specialty crop producers, as well as to determine the costs associated with grafted tomato production in high tunnels. The results of the cost analysis will be published in the NC Organic Seasonal High Tunnel Organic Tomato Production Guide and the High Tunnel Micro Irrigation Guide on CFSA website. In SC: to provide on-farm high tunnel production training to 175 specialty crop producers, to provide one-on-one training to 30 NRCS Seasonal High Tunnel contract recipients, and to publish online high tunnel resources.
  • Partner with the National Hmong American Farmers, Inc. to increase knowledge of safe handling and agricultural practices along with marketing to schools among 100 farmers of Southeast Asian descent in the Fresno, California area.
  • Partner with Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society to identify current standard cultivars and traits needed for improved performance, employ replicated variety trials at North Dakota State University and at vegetable farms across North Dakota, and report data through eOrganic’s Variety Trial Reports website, field day tours, workshops at collaborator events, and through social media.
  • Partner with Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) to provide direct technical support and educational programming to help Ohio beginning and existing organic farmers improve organic production and marketing skills, help others transition to certified organic production, and work with farmers of all sizes and levels of experience to establish and implement food safety plans.

Descriptions of all the projects SCBGP has funded, organized by year and state, are here: SCBGP Awards 2006-2016 

How to Apply and Program Resources

To receive grants, states must submit an application and plan outlining how the grant funds would be spent. Each state then can use the funds to supplement state programs or make grant funds available for projects to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.

Farmers or organizations interested in applying for a state sub-grant should contact your state department of agriculture to discuss project ideas. To find your state’s SCBGP contact, visit: SCBGP State Contacts.

For general information about SCBGP, visit the AMS SCBGP Website.

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

SCBGP was first authorized in the 2004 Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act but did not receive any discretionary funding until 2006 and did not receive any mandatory funding until 2008. The 2008 Farm Bill provided $55 million per year in mandatory funding to SCBGP. The 2014 Farm Bill increased mandatory funding again for SCBGP. The new bill funds the program at $72.5 million per year through 2017 and at $85 million per year starting in 2018.  These levels represent a substantially increased level of funding than what was in the original Senate and House-passed farm, a sign of the growing clout of the specialty crop industry. The amount allocated to each state is based on a formula that considers specialty crop acreage and production value within the state.

Specialty Crop Block Grants Program Funding 

Fiscal Year Total Funding (in millions)
2014 $72.5
2015 $72.5
2016 $72.5
2017 $72.5
2018 $85.0
5 yr total $375
10 yr total $800

Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2014 Farm Bill for this program to be provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation.  However, Congress does at times pass subsequent appropriations legislation that caps the funding level for a particular year for a particular program at less than provided by the farm bill in order to use the resulting savings to fund a different program.  Therefore, despite its “mandatory” status, the funding level for a given year could be less than the farm bill dictates should the Appropriations Committees decide to raid the farm bill to fund other programs under its jurisdiction. In addition, SCBG is subject to automatic cuts as part of an annual sequestration process established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

For the most current information on program funding levels, please see NSAC’s Annual Appropriations Chart.

Authorizing Language

Section 10010 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 101 of the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 1621 note.

Last updated in October 2016.