MADISON, Wis., Oct. 1, 2012–Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $101 million grants to support specialty crop initiatives, while emphasizing the challenges for USDA in light of the expired 2008 farm bill. Vilsack made the announcement before touring the Catholic Multicultural Center in Madison, Wis., which prepares food for delivery to local public schools.

He announced approximately $55 million of the total funding will be invested in 56 specialty crop block grants to states that fund initiatives for local and regional producers. An additional $46 million will go to support research and extension activities.

However, Vilsack emphasized in a teleconference today that “effective Oct. 1, we are not able to do anything further in these programs until the House acts” on the farm bill. 

"Many programs and policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were authorized under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 through September 30, 2012,” he said in a statement released today. “As of today, USDA's authority or funding to deliver many of these programs has expired, leaving USDA with far fewer tools to help strengthen American agriculture and grow a rural economy that supports 1 in 12 American jobs.”

The goal of USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is to promote opportunities for specialty crop producers. This year's grants totaled $55 million.

Vilsack's announcement today also highlighted $46 million in new and continuing grants through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). Specialty crops, defined as "fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture," are supported by SCRI projects through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The program is reauthorized in the version of the farm bill passed through the House Agriculture Committee. Agricultural leaders are hopeful the House will vote on the bill in November.  

“Congress will return in mid-November for a lame-duck session prior to final adjournment in December,” according to a joint statement released by several farm groups today. “We will work to have the first order of business for the House of Representatives be to consider a new Farm Bill.”

“Most producers of fruits and vegetables do not have a safety net, but instead receive funding to augment the competitiveness of specialty crops through programs that enhance trade, promote cutting-edge research, and implement on-the-ground projects to protect crops from disease and invasive species,” according to groups’ statement. “Funding for these programs ended when the Farm Bill expired.”

The following farm groups participated in the release:

American Farm Bureau Federation

American Pulse Association

American Soybean Association

National Association of Conservation Districts

National Association of Wheat Growers

National Barley Growers Association

National Corn Growers Association

National Council of Farmer Cooperatives

National Farmers Union

National Milk Producers Federation

National Sunflower Association

United Fresh Produce Association

USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council

U.S. Canola Association

Western Growers Association


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