Helping fruit, vegetables, and other farmers with research, training, infrastructure, and marketing support
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. These specialty crops have historically benefited from federal marketing and research programs, but not received direct aid from the farm bill. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) was created to provide greater federal assistance to specialty crop producers by providing grants to state departments of agriculture to enhance the competitiveness of those crops. SCBGP funds can support a wide array of projects, such as locally and regionally focused specialty crop research, value-added processing businesses, food hub development, farmer food safety training, and farm to school initiatives.
Learn More About SCBGP:
- Program Basics: Learn more about how this program works
- Eligibility: Find out who can utilize this program
- The Program in Action: Read success stories from those who have used this program
- How to Apply and Program Resources: Learn more about the application process and where to find more information
- Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes: Learn about important policy changes and funding levels provided by the Farm Bill
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
- Expanding access to specialty crops in underserved communities.
SCBGP provides state block grants on an annual basis to assist State Departments of Agriculture in enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops in their states. To receive grants, states must submit an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) outlining how the grant funds will 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. Organizations may apply directly to their State Department of Agriculture for state-specific projects funded through these block grants.
In addition, the Specialty Crop Multi-State subprogram (SCMP) enhances the competitiveness of specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture) by funding collaborative multi state projects. SCMP projects must involve at least two partners located in different states. Project partners can include, but are not limited to: State Departments of Agriculture, state agencies, tribal governments, land grant or State universities or colleges, specialty crop producer organizations, non-profit organizations, and community-based organizations.
Only State Departments of Agriculture are eligible to apply for the block grants, though they usually solicit proposals from or partner with nonprofit groups, producer groups, and colleges/universities. States usually choose to re-grant a substantial portion of their funding, and often award grants to pre-selected projects 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 measurable outcomes for the specialty crop industry and consumers.
Since 2006, SCBGP has invested well over $500 million to enhance the competitiveness of and increase the consumption of specialty crops within the United States. In fiscal year (FY) 2018 alone, SCBGP funded 788 projects in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories.
SCBGP funds have supported several National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member projects, including:
- Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) : Provided on-farm high tunnel production training to 170 specialty crop producers in North Carolina, and also used SCBGP funds to determine the costs associated with grafted tomato production in high tunnels. The results of the cost analysis were published in the NC Organic Seasonal High Tunnel Organic Tomato Production Guide and the High Tunnel Micro Irrigation Guide on CFSA’s website. In South Carolina, CFSA used SCBGP funds to provide on-farm high tunnel production training to 175 specialty crop producers, one-on-one training to 30 NRCS Seasonal High Tunnel contract recipients, and to publish online high tunnel resources.
- National Hmong American Farmers, Inc. increased knowledge of safe handling, agricultural practices, and marketing for institutional (i.e. schools) sales to 100 farmers of Southeast Asian descent in the Fresno, California area.
- Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society identified current standard cultivars and traits needed for improved performance. They also used SCBGP funds to employ replicated variety trials at North Dakota State University and at vegetable farms across North Dakota, and to 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) provided direct technical support and educational programming to help organic farmers improve organic production and marketing skills. Their project also helped conventional producers to transition to certified organic production, and worked with farmers of all sizes and levels of experience to establish and implement food safety plans.
- Northeast Organic Farming Association of Massachusetts’ project improved approaches to revitalizing compost-based urban soils in Massachusetts through on-site educational sessions, conference workshops, and by creating a best practice informational resource.
Descriptions of all the projects SCBGP has funded, organized by year and state, can be found here: SCBGP Awards 2006-2018.
To receive grants, states must submit an application and plan outlining how the grant funds will 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 in their states.
Farmers or organizations interested in applying for a state sub-grant should contact their 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.
SCBGP was first authorized in the 2004 Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act, but did not receive any funding until 2006. The 2008 Farm Bill provided SCBGP with its first mandatory funds at $55 million per year. The 2014 Farm Bill subsequently increased the program’s mandatory funding to $72.5 million per year through 2017, and then $85 million per year in perpetuity starting in 2018.
The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized the program and continued its funding at $85 million per year in perpetuity. The amount allocated to each state is based on a formula that considers specialty crop acreage and production value within the state. The 2018 Farm Bill also made a number of minor but important changes to the underlying program. For example, the bill added language regarding periodic evaluation and performance measures for the states and projects funded through the program.
The bill also made permanent the $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the Specialty Crop Multi-State subprogram (SCMP). The 2018 Farm Bill includes new language authorizing the USDA to directly administer multistate projects for applicants in nonparticipating state.
Specialty Crop Block Grants Program Funding
|Total Funding (in millions)
|5 yr total
|10 yr total
Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2018 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.
Section 10107 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 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 July 2019.