USDA allots $97 million to support specialty crops, farm-to-school programs

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, March 16, 2015 -The USDA today announced $96.8 million in funding for projects that support specialty crop producers, local food entrepreneurs and farm-to-school efforts.

Almost two-thirds of the money - $63.2 million - was earmarked for Specialty Crop Block Grant Program projects based on a formula that considers both specialty crop acreage and production value. The program is administered by USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS).

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Interested applicants should apply directly through their state departments of agriculture. A listing of state contacts and application due dates can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp.

“Increasing market opportunities for local food producers is a sound investment in America's rural economies, while also increasing access to healthy food for our nation's families," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. "Consumer demand for local, healthy food is skyrocketing in schools, hospitals and wholesalers. These grant opportunities allow farmers and ranchers to meet this demand, and feed our nation's kids."

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Three other AMS programs will also receive funds. The Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) will use $1 million in funding to help state agencies research and develop food and agriculture markets.

In addition, the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) will each receive $13.3 million to support the growth of the local food sector, one of the four objectives of USDA's rural economic development strategy.

FMPP has been helping expand markets for local foods since 2009 through approximately 630 farmers' markets and direct-from-producer-to-consumer projects, AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo said.

LFPP, an expansion of FMPP, is a new program that was created by the 2014 farm bill that “support(s) farmer-to-marketplace intermediary type activities like food hubs, distribution networks and local food processing and aggregation,” Alonzo told reporters on a conference call.

Another $6 million in funding will also go to state agencies through the Farm to School Grant Program, run by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. Selected agencies will use their grants to help schools implement new farm to school programs, expand existing ones, partner with community groups and train school food service workers.

Applications for funding are due on May 14 for FSMIP, FMPP and LFPP, and May 20 for the Farm to School Grant Program. The deadline for SCBGP funding is July 8.

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