California and Arizona will receive more than $18 million of the $55 million in recently awarded USDA block grants to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.
Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced these awards at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture annual meeting.
“We are pleased to support diverse efforts to help specialty crop growers market their products in a global marketplace and encourage all Americans to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption,” said Merrigan. “These grants are instrumental in helping specialty crop growers tackle the issues they are facing today.”
The 54 grants total approximately $55 million, and will fund 827 projects, a 10 percent increase over last year. This supports the competitiveness of specialty crops and America’s specialty crop farmers. Summaries of all awards can be viewed at www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp.
The block grants benefit specialty crop growers and consumers as well. For example, one block grant recipient is partnering with a university to determine if E. coli 0157:H7 can be transferred by dust or wind from cattle production areas to leafy green produce crops.
Another recipient is partnering with an agency to coordinate a Farm to School program where school districts will purchase specialty crops from a variety of growers for direct use in school meals, and provide nutrition and agriculture education about the benefits and nutritional qualities of specialty crops to students and school personnel.
Through this program, administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA is committed to increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops; improving efficiency and reducing costs of distribution systems; assisting entities in the specialty crop distribution chain in developing “Good Agricultural Practices,” “Good Handling Practices,” “Good Manufacturing Practices,” and cost-share arrangements for funding audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors; investing in specialty crop research, including research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes; enhancing food safety; developing new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops; pest and disease control; development of organic and sustainable production practices; increasing the marketability of specialty crop farmers, including Native American and disadvantaged farmers; developing local and regional food systems; and improving food access in underserved communities.