NSAC's Blog

Specialty Crop Grant Awards Announced by USDA

October 6, 2015

On October 5, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $63 million in grants for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) and over $50 million in grants for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). These awards help support farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops, also known as “specialty crops,” through research, agricultural extension and other activities that can help address a variety of challenges faced by specialty crop producers and enhance their competitiveness .

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) administers the SCBGP, which issues grants to State departments of agriculture. The State departments of agriculture in turn lead or fund projects that help support specialty crop growers through research and programs to increase demand.

Since 2009, AMS has awarded $392.9 million for 5,484 projects, including the 755 projects announced yesterday.

NSAC congratulates all 755 projects from all fifty States, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. Territories. NSAC is especially happy to announce the following 19 NSAC member organizations on the following grant-awarded projects:

  • 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.
  • Fayette County Community Action Agency (Republic Food Enterprise Center) to promote and improve the access to locally grown fruits, vegetables and processed produce (specialty crops) that are designated for distribution to underserved communities, local restaurants, local farmers markets and community supported farms through the development of a mobile market program.
  • Illinois Stewardship Alliance to increase the local consumption of Illinois specialty crops through education and outreach at grocery stores, tasting at local events, cooking classes, and promotions of specialty crop products.
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) to increase local sales of Minnesota grown specialty crops in the child care marketplace through technical assistance and outreach to Minnesota’s 33-county level Head Start programs, including coordination with farmers, distribution and processing partners, and Head Start staff.
  • Kansas Rural Center to provide training and assistance to farmers to adopt high tunnel farming, with the aim of increasing farmers yields and increase the production of nutritious local specialty crops.
  • Michigan Integrated Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) to assist a pilot group of next generation farmers working with area food safety specialists to prepare to address evolving food safety guidelines.
  • 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.
  • New England Farmers Union (NEFU) to develop educational resources on the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) for Connecticut’s farmers.
  • Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts to improve approaches in Massachusetts for revitalizing compost-based urban soils through on-site educational sessions, conference workshops, and a best practice informational resource.
  • Northeast Organic Farming Association of Rhode Island to train Rhode Island farmers to produce high-value organic crops to meet local market demand through a series of Advanced Grower Training Seminars, technical support provided by local Farm Advisors, and a series of On-Farm Workshops where organic techniques will be demonstrated.
  • Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont to increase the viability of schools as a consistent market for Vermont specialty crops by building relationships between school food services and farmers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) to train Pennsylvania farmers to expand their existing specialty crop operations and provide them with skills to market and sell crops directly to consumers or wholesale.
  • Practical Farmers of Iowa to collect and share data on fruit and vegetable profitability, soil health, cover crops, and production trials for Iowa’s climate.
  • Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) to create educational materials and videos to educate North Carolina producers about recordkeeping requirements for crop insurance for specialty crops.
  • Slow Food Denver to increase the consumption of Colorado fruits and vegetables in low income areas of Denver by education initiatives in local schools and community centers that will teach the importance of specialty crops and how delicious they can be, and to work with local groups to increase the distribution of Colorado specialty crops to food deserts.
  • Tilth Producers of Washington to educate small-scale specialty crop growers in Washington on organic and/or sustainable practices through specialty crop farm walks, workshops and farm tours.

A full list of the SCBG awardees is available at this link.

Specialty Crop Research Initiative

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers the SCRI, which provides competitive grants for regional and multi-state research projects related to specialty crops and helps share their results so that producers can improve the viability, sustainability, and profitability of their crops. The program helps address a range of issues affecting specialty crops, from plant genetics to food safety.

For this round of awards, NIFA made 15 new awards totaling more than $40 million and 5 continuation awards totaling $9.7 million for grants initially funded in prior fiscal years. The grants fund projects in 13 states. California, Florida, and Michigan were the top states in terms of award funding, while Michigan State University received the most number of awards.

NIFA has not yet made detailed project descriptions available. Once NIFA has posted the project descriptions, we will provide an update to this blog.

To see a list of SCRI award recipients and the grant dollar amounts provided, please see the announcement.

Categories: Farm Bill, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension

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