Research, outreach and other projects designed to benefit California’s farmers have been given the green light as part of the specialty crop block grant program announced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  A total of $55 million was awarded nationwide, with California receiving more than $18.6 million.

“We have identified an impressive list of projects that will improve the prospects of California’s specialty crop farmers,” said California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.  “This block grant program provides an opportunity for researchers, educators and other innovators in the agricultural community to pursue a wide variety of projects designed to make our crops safer, more competitive and more accessible.”

The federal block grant program provides grants to states to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.  Specialty crops are defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).” 

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) projects were funded in eight categories – Plant Health and Pest Challenges; Environmental Concerns and Conservation; Food Safety; Agriculture Education and Outreach; International Trade; Market Enhancement and Promotion; Food Security; and Healthy Eating.  Projects were selected through a competitive review process.

California’s 72 projects include workshops that will prepare small specialty produce growers in California to avoid market risk while profiting from the new markets; research to evaluate winter cover crops to reduce nitrate leaching; an international trade project to document the impact of European Union trade and support policies for olives on the competitiveness of the California olive industry; a project that aims to increase competitiveness and long-term sales of Lake County wine and wine grapes; and an effort to develop an effective lure for reliable detection and control of the female Navel Orangeworm Moth.

California’s students will learn about agriculture through grants supporting projects such as Ag Venture, which will provide field trips to introduce more than 11,000 third-graders to a variety of farmers in San Joaquin County; the Centennial Farm, which will create gardens, exhibits and curriculum to teach urban youth about farming; and a mobile agriculture classroom called Ag In Motion (AIM) at the National Ag Science Center in Stanislaus County.

Other projects include improving health and nutrition by supplying school meal programs with locally grown fresh specialty crops; developing school farm stands to offer healthy choices; and establishing mobile vending to visit disadvantaged communities to sell specialty crops.

Abstracts of California’s 72 grant projects are available online at: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/grants.

Although it is not required by USDA regulations, many grant applicants secured matching funds for their projects totaling $6.7 million in California.  As a result of this leverage, the total amount invested in California’s specialty crops is $25.3 million.

California is the nation’s largest producer of specialty crops, accounting for 40 percent of the United States’ specialty crop production. Projects selected for funding reflect the diversity of California’s crops, growers and geographic regions.