Specialty crops in New Mexico and Texas will receive another round of support from the USDA-AMS Specialty Crop Grants Program, according to agriculture officials in both states. The grants are awarded annually by the United States Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Marketing Service (USDA-AMS).
Seven New Mexico specialty crop projects have been awarded federal grants totaling $429,000 to be used in promotion and production efforts for the state's chili pepper, pecan and grape crops.
The New Mexico Department of Agriculture, which administers and manages the grant program in that state, says some of the money will be used to partner with the New Mexico Wine Growers Association to develop material for tourists and a smart phone application to help people find wineries across the state.
In addition, the New Mexico grants will support projects designed to expand marketing efforts and opportunities, including restaurant promotions and funds to increase in-state and out-of-state demand for New Mexico chili pepper and pecan crops.
Congressman Ben Ray Luján of the Third Congressional District made the New Mexico grant announcement last week in Santa Fe.
“From chiles to pecans, New Mexico’s specialty crops represent not only jobs in our communities, but a source of pride. These federal funds will help our local farmers and producers take steps to sustain their livelihoods and create more opportunities to sell their distinct products,” Luján told reporters.
Texas Agriculture officials say a total of 16 projects totaling $1.42 million will be funded, including partnering with the Texas Vegetable Association along with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, and Texas A&M AgriLife Research, for a project designed to increase grower/packer awareness of high risk contamination areas and ultimately limit contamination outbreaks in the Texas food system.
Another Texas project includes partnering with Texas Citrus Mutual in their continued management, research and control of citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB), in the Rio Grande Valley.
If you are enjoying reading this article, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily  and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
USDA earmarks funds each year for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to assist producers of fresh fruits and vegetables and to strengthen markets for specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture. Funding for Texas and New Mexico projects are part of a $52 million investment in grants that support 694 initiatives across the country.
Luján said an integral part of New Mexico’s economy is driven by the hard work of farmers and producers across the state who provide specialty crops "that are part of the fabric of the Land of Enchantment" and says the specialty crop grants are a needed tool to aid the developing specialty crop industry across the Southwest.
Each year the New Mexico Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Agriculture asks producers and specialty crop support groups in their states to submit projects for consideration.
New Mexico projects
The seven New Mexico projects selected for funding this year include:
- Partner with the New Mexico Chile Association to increase demand and price premiums for New Mexico chili pepper growers and processers by developing and implementing a region of production certification program for New Mexico peppers.
- Partner with the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association to increase sales of specialty crops by educating new and beginning farmers about what it takes to be successful as a specialty crop farmer in the state; creating brand loyalty among specialty crop buyers; and engaging the next generation of youth on issues of food, farming, and sustainability through a series of short videos to be shown on YouTube and at statewide events.
- Partner with the New Mexico Wine Growers Association to increase traffic to New Mexico’s wineries by designing and implementing tourism-oriented promotional materials and by developing a Smartphone application to guide tourists to winery destinations, provide them with information and discounts, and alert them to events the wineries offer.
- Increase awareness of New Mexico specialty crops and value-added products by reaching out to national food and beverage associations through product sampling, demonstrations, seminars, workshops, and tradeshows.
- Capture new target markets and create greater demand for New Mexico’s green chili peppers by developing and implementing new marketing strategies including in-store demonstrations, advertising activities, and restaurant promotions.
- Partner with New Mexico State University to increase consistent projection of pecans by studying the issue of alternate bearing, measuring the genetic signals to pinpoint the timing of pecan flower induction, and sharing the results with pecan growers at various conferences and through the NMSU Cooperative Extension Bulletin.
- Perform pre-award and post-award activities to administer Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding and ensure that the State Agency and sub-awardees abide by Federal and State requirements and regulations.
The 16 Texas specialty crop projects to receive funding include:
- Partner with the Texas Vegetable Association along with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Texas A&M Center for Food Safety, and Texas A&M AgriLife Research to increase grower/packer awareness of field and packing process high risk contamination areas and ultimately limit contamination outbreaks by identifying best practices to reduce the risk contamination areas in harvesting situations across multiple specialty crops grown in Texas.
- Partner with the Texas Vegetable Association to increase brand awareness and sales of specialty crops by utilizing increased media, billboards and in-store demonstrations to educate consumers on the health benefits, availability and freshness of GO TEXAN vegetables and the benefits of pairing vegetables and dairy to make a tasty, healthy meal. Matching funds will be used to cover non-specialty crop expenses.
- Increase retail sales of specialty crops by maintaining a liaison position within the Texas Department of Agriculture; creating a promotional campaign using in-store advertising, online advertisements and social media to drive consumers to their local retailers for Texas grown produce and horticulture products; and promoting Texas produce in restaurants through targeting advertising and social media. Matching funds will be used to cover non-specialty crop promotions.
- Partner with the Texas Olive Oil Council to increase Texas olive orchard productivity and yield by providing state of the industry training for optimizing fruiting and harvesting management practices using digital technology distribution.
- Partner with the Sustainable Food Center to increase sales of specialty crops at two farmers markets by employing a Food Access Manager to train specialty crop growers to participate in the Double Dollar Incentive Program that doubles the value of fruits and vegetable purchases using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infant and Children (WIC), and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) benefits.
- Partner with the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association and the Texas Watersmart Group to improve water conservation and minimize the effects of drought by educating consumers about water conservation through radio advertising.
- Partner with the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association to improve water conservation by providing both face-to-face and online training on water saving strategies for both businesses and consumers.
- Partner with TexaSweet Citrus Marketing to increase sales and consumption of Texas Grapefruit by continuing to conduct education and promotional programs to classrooms and reinforce messages shared in schools with a blogger ambassador program and media outreach.
- Partner with the Texas International Produce Association and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension to increase education and awareness of water conserving technologies and practices through educational field days and workshops.
- Partner with the Uvalde County Underground Water Conservation District and Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center to increase the number of Texas urban and rural growers adopting water use efficient production systems for leafy greens through targeted educational and outreach programs that help growers develop efficient production practices.
- Partner with the Texas Pecan Growers Association, Texas Tech University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service to increase truffle production in Texas by continuing to promote truffles to growers and consumers and conducting research to provide growers with the best production practices for co-cropping truffles and pecans in Texas.
- Partner with the National Center for Appropriate Technology and Texas A&M AgriLife Research to enhance the quality, taste and production of specialty melons and artichokes by expanding evaluations in replicated trials, studying quality and yield responses under various conditions and production systems, and sharing results of the studies with growers and consumers through workshops, field days and product demonstrations.
- Partner with the Texas Pecan Growers Association and Texas A&M AgriLife Research to continue to increase knowledge of growers about the most susceptible rootstocks and potential for new resistant rootstocks to cotton root rot by informing pecan growers of the results of the early cotton root rot evaluations among pecan germplasm being assessed.
- Partner with J&D Produce and Texas AgriLife Research to allow growers to expand production and capture a larger market share for Texas grown tomatoes by conducting field trials for tomato yellow leaf curl virus resistant cultivars bred by Texas A&M University so that Texas tomato growers have multiple resistant options.
- Partner with Texas Citrus Mutual to continue to slow the spread of citrus greening disease or Huanglongbing (HLB) in the Rio Grande Valley by using an area-wide HLB detection survey complimented by grower and public outreach.