USDA announces $118 million in grants for specialty crop projects in 50 states

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 2, 2014 -Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced nearly $118 million in grants to strengthen markets for specialty crops in all 50 states. The grants will be provided through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, both authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

"Specialty crop grants provide a major boost to the rural economies," Vilsack said during an event in Miami. In a conference call with reporters, Vilsack said the funding indicates that the authors of the Farm Bill authors recognize the vital role specialty crops play in the farm economy.  

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Sales of specialty crops -- which include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops -- total nearly $65 billion per year, according to USDA.

The crops were first included in the 2008 Farm Bill in a title authored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., now the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture. The 2014 Farm Bill increased support for specialty crops.

One of my top priorities was making sure the 2014 Farm Bill had major support for the fruits, vegetables and nursery crops grown in Michigan and other parts of the country, which gives families better access to local food options and supports our economy,” Stabenow in a press release. “Today's announcement is great news for farmers who will have additional tools and resources to help promote and sell their products to consumers, protect their crops from pests and disease, and develop better production practices.”

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The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), will provide $66 million to state agriculture departments for projects that help support specialty crop growers. USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is also awarding $51.8 million in grants through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) to fund research and extension projects for specialty crop production.

According to the announcement, all 50 States, the District of Columbia and four U.S. Territories were awarded grants that will fund a total of 838 projects.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) will receive $4.5 million to fund 34 projects. One project allows the FDACS to partner with Miami-Dade County to increase the market viability of local specialty crops, according to USDA.

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