USDA announced $101 million in grants to support America's specialty crops producers, who provide the fruits, vegetables, nuts and other nutritious foods for millions of healthy American meals each day. Approximately $55 million of the total will be invested in 56 specialty crop block grants to states that fund 748 initiatives across the country to strengthen markets and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers. An additional $46 million will go to support new and continuing research and Extension activities to address challenges and opportunities for growers and businesses that rely on a sustainable, profitable specialty crops industry. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement before touring the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison, Wis., which prepares food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, for delivery to local public schools.
Under Vilsack's leadership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has supported efforts to strengthen local and regional food systems for farmers of all types and sizes, helping them take advantage of new opportunities and succeed in today's marketplace. Thanks to this support for the diversity of American agriculture, the sector is experiencing one of its best periods in history. Today, both agricultural exports and net farm income are at record levels, while farm debt has been cut in half since the 1980s. Overall, American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in the United States.
"By investing in projects that stimulate growth and development for specialty crop growers of all sizes, we're helping American farmers establish a marketplace for new businesses opportunities in each region of the country," said Vilsack. "These investments will support local and regional markets, and improve access to healthy food for millions of children and supply thousands of farmers markets, restaurants and other businesses with fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables. The grants also help growers solve technology needs or make better informed decisions on profitability and sustainability, leading to stronger rural American communities and businesses."
The goal of USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands received grants this year, totaling $55 million. Visit www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp to review the 2012 project summaries and view a list of awards by location.
The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for fiscal year 2012 supports initiatives that:
- Increase nutritional knowledge and specialty crop consumption
- Improve efficiency within the distribution system and reduce costs
- Promote the development of good agricultural, handling and manufacturing practices while encouraging audit fund cost-sharing for small farmers, packers and processors
- Support research through standard and green initiatives
- Enhance food safety
- Develop new/improved seed varieties and specialty crops
- Control pests and diseases
- Create organic and sustainable production practices
- Establish local and regional fresh food systems
- Expand food access in underserved/food desert communities
Since 2006, the program administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has awarded $240 million. The program is part of USDA's integrated approach to programs and policies that stimulate food- and agriculturally-based community economic development.
Specialty Crop Research Initiative
Vilsack's announcement also highlighted $46 million in new and continuing grants through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which supports the specialty crop industry by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. Specialty crops are defined in law as "fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture." Funded projects address five focus areas: 1) improve crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; 2) address threats from pests and diseases; 3) improve production efficiency, productivity and profitability; 4) develop new innovations and technologies and 5) develop methods to improve food safety.
SCRI projects are funded through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and address research and extension needs for crops that span the entire spectrum of specialty crops production, from researching plant genetics to improving 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. For a full list of awards, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2012news/scri_award_descriptions.html.
For example, the Citrus Research and Development Foundation of Lake Alfred, Fla., received a $9 million grant to work to eliminate citrus greening by blocking the ability of insects to move the disease from infected trees to healthy ones. Citrus greening threatens to destroy over 1 million commercial citrus acres that have an annual production value of approximately $3 billion across the nation. Yearly losses could reach $10 billion if citrus greening is left unchecked.
USDA also awarded two research grants to the University of Wisconsin, totaling roughly $6 million. One of the projects seeks to improve the efficiency, productivity and profitability of vegetable production and processing by developing tools to better understand the role of consumer markets. The second grant will support ongoing work to reduce naturally-occurring compounds from forming in potatoes during high-temperature cooking processes such as roasting and frying.
Most SCRI projects involve public and private sector collaborations, leading to multistate, multi-institutional or trans-disciplinary efforts. To leverage NIFA's investment and increase potential impact from federal funding, SCRI recipients are required to provide a 100 percent match in funds from non-federal sources.