The U.S. Department of Agriculture is making available for application $49 million in specialty crop block grants for 2009.

This program is one of the key specialty crop components of the 2008 farm bill. The latest USDA funding announcement represents a five-fold increase in funds from last year. It will fund innovative projects from all 50 states and U.S. territories that benefit the specialty crop sector, according to United Fresh Produce Association President Tom Stenzel.

One of the most significant victories for the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry in the farm bill was the conversion of this important program from being dependent on annual appropriations to securing mandatory funds for the life of the 2008 farm bill. That victory resulted in an increase from $7 million in appropriated funds to $49 million for FY2009. This amount will increase to $55 million in the next fiscal year and remain at that level through the life of the bill.

Since the passage of the bill, United Fresh has worked with the Department of Agriculture to implement this program in the most efficient manner possible to benefit America's produce industry. As a member of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, United Fresh has commented on the administration's proposed rule for the program, worked with industry participants and consulted with state departments of agriculture to ensure that the program builds on its success for many years to come.

Deadline for grants is Aug. 26. The grant announcement can be viewed here: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-12094.htm.