With USDA support largely focused on production farming through Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, a move to provide additional support to specialty crop production was made possible in the 2014 Farm Bill, and the latest roll out of USDA support was announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week.
By definition, specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops. While total production revenue for these types of crops pale in comparison with commodity crop production, Vilsack said it remains significant and benefits rural areas and the farmers who dedicate land use to growing specialty crops.
USDA's announcement this week is part of a USDA-wide effort supporting President Obama's commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems and come in the form of more than $113 million in awards of program grants through research, agricultural extension activities, and programs to increase demand and address the needs of America's specialty crop industry.
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These grants will be administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
"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," Vilsack said. "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."
Vilsack said the grants will help growers solve technology needs or make more informed decisions on profitability and sustainability, leading to stronger rural American communities and businesses.
USDA reports the grants will include AMS funds in the amount of $63 million to 755 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program projects nation-wide. The grants are issued to state departments of agriculture for projects that help support specialty crop growers, including locally grown fruits, vegetables, and nursery crops, including floriculture through research and programs to increase demand. Since 2009, AMS has awarded 385 grants totaling $392.9 million for 5,484 projects, including those announced this week.
Vilsack said these grants are designed to increase specialty crop competitiveness. For example, an Ohio grant will help with organic production and food safety funds. The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association will provide Ohio beginning and existing organic farmers direct technical support and educational programming to help improve organic production and marketing skills. The project will also help transition other growers to certified organic production, and will help farmers of all sizes and levels of experience to establish and implement on-farm food safety plans.
In addition, USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is announcing $50 million in grants funded through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which is made available through the Agriculture Act of 2014. This program develops and disseminates science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops across the entire spectrum of specialty crops production, from researching plant genetics to developing new production innovations and developing methods to respond to food safety hazards.
2015 awards top $40 million
In fiscal year 2015, NIFA made 15 new awards totaling more than $40 million. Fiscal year 2015 grants include:
- University of California, Davis, Calif., $4,584,535
- University of California, Davis, Calif., $9,450
- University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $4,438,003
- University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $3,404,674
- University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $3,456,195
- Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $6,515,655
- Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $27,606
- Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $4,478,345
- North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., $6,745,400
- Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $46,253
- Agriculture & Environmental Geographic Information Systems, Great Falls, Va., $46,257
- Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $2,688,111
- University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $226,906
- USDA Agricultural Research Service, Wooster, Ohio, $3,672,482
- USDA Agricultural Research Service, Houston, Texas, $46,350
Additionally in fiscal year 2015, NIFA made five continuation awards totaling $9.7 million for grants initially funded in prior fiscal years. Continuation awards are based on available appropriations and project success.
Vilsack said AMS works to improve global opportunities for U.S. growers and producers. AMS grant funding supports a variety of programs, including organic certification cost-share programs, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program.
NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and Extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.