Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced that USDA will be investing in 55 specialty crop block grants that will fund 740 initiatives across the United States and its territories. The grants will help strengthen the market for specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

"Agriculture plays a vital role in the health and strength of our economy, and by investing in specialty crop growers and producers across the country, we can help spark new markets and job creation, while expanding production of healthy, safe and affordable food," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for fiscal year 2011 supports initiatives that:

  • Increase nutritional knowledge and specialty crop consumption
  • Improve efficiency within the distribution system and reduce costs
  • Promote the development of good agricultural, handling and manufacturing practices while encouraging audit fund cost-sharing for small farmers, packers and processors
  • Support research through standard and green initiatives
  • Enhance food safety
  • Develop new/improved seed varieties and specialty crops
  • Control pests and diseases
  • Create organic and sustainable production practices
  • Establish local and regional fresh food systems
  • Expand food access in underserved/food desert communities

A growing number of specialty crop producers are selling into local and regional markets and many of the grants announced today help support specialty crop producers and small businesses expand their business locally. These markets offer a significant opportunity to create jobs for farmers and entrepreneurs. Funds will be used by all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Merrigan also highlighted the three pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that will support tens of thousands of jobs in the United States and create market opportunities for specialty crop producers. When approved, these agreements will clear the way for new American exports around the world, help create jobs and provide new income opportunities for our nation's agricultural producers, small businesses, and rural communities. For American agriculture, passage of these agreements means over $2.3 billion in additional exports, supporting nearly 20,000 jobs here at home.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Visit www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp to read fiscal year 2011 project summaries. A listing of awards by location is also available.