The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced an investment of more than $243 million in grants to support specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and nursery crops through two USDA programs – the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative grants program.
USDA is investing $169.9 million through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) to support farmers growing specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts and nursery crops.
The funding, authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill ($72.9 million) and the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (H.R. 133) ($97 million), will provide non-competitive SCBGP funding to the departments of agriculture in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories. The 56 grant recipients fund sub-awards for research, agricultural extension activities and programs to increase demand for agricultural goods of value to farmers in their respective state or territory.
Additionally, for H.R. 133 Stimulus funding, states were encouraged to prioritize projects that respond to COVID-19 impacts. This may include projects to assist farmworkers and projects to fund farmers, food businesses, and other relevant entities to respond to risks and supply chain disruptions.
“This historic level of funding will help the specialty crops industry recover from the effects of the pandemic,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Over the coming months as we work diligently to transform our food system, you will continue to see Build Back Better funding announced that includes a mix of grants, loans, and innovative financing mechanisms.”
SCBGP recipients include:
• The Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board will partner with researchers at Michigan State University to develop strategies to mitigate the destructive diseases that affect Michigan’s $23 million asparagus industry. Growers have reported up to 50% yield loss and a critical reduction in field longevity. Field studies will build on previous efforts to improve crop quality with the goal of a sustainable and resilient asparagus cropping system and capacity for increased yields and competitiveness.
• The New Mexico Department of Agriculture, in partnership with The National Center for Frontier Communities’ Southwest New Mexico Food Hub, will implement several strategies to help increase its ability to provide equitable market access and services for remote growers in the region, shift into self-sufficiency after COVID setbacks, and build a culture of food safety among its network of growers through trainings and certification.
A complete list of the SCBGP grant recipients is available on the Agricultural Marketing Service website at: https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/scbgp/awards
USDA also announced an investment of nearly $74 million to 21 award recipients through its Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grants program. SCRI program investments address critical challenges facing conventional and organic food and agricultural production systems across the specialty crop industry. The program’s priority focus areas include improving crop characteristics, managing threats from pests and diseases, improving production efficiency, profitability, and technological innovation, and mitigating food safety hazards.
SCRI gives priority to projects that are multistate, multi-institutional, or trans-disciplinary, and include ways to communicate results to producers and the public.
Examples of funded SCRI projects include:
• The U.S. strawberry industry farm gate value in 2020 was $2.3 billion. Despite using Methyl Bromide as soil fumigant, strawberry transplants sold to fruiting fields frequently are symptomless carriers for a range of devastating diseases. North Carolina State University’s project will address a critical need for the strawberry nursery industry to develop a new propagation technology, to minimize the spread of pathogens, find alternatives to the soil fumigant Methyl Bromide, and eventually reduce costs.
• Local food systems are an important driver of specialty crop production. One of the central tools employed by direct-to-consumer farmers are high tunnels, a form of protected agriculture used almost exclusively to produce specialty crops. Purdue University’s project will use high tunnels on specialty crops farms to better understand the impacts of crop diversity on pests and beneficial insects to support local food production across four seasons.
• Specialty crops account for 51% of 9.6 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. Foodborne illness caused by contaminated specialty crops is estimated to produce an annual burden to the domestic economy of approximately $18 billion. Texas A&M University’s project will develop novel spraying and dipping solutions and coatings to improve the microbiological safety of farming tools and accessories used in harvesting, storing, sorting and processing specialty crops.
A complete list of the 21 funded FY2021 SCRI grant recipients is available on the National Institute of Food and Agriculture website at: https://go.usa.gov/xM97N.