Fifty-five grants totaling approximately $49 million for 745 projects to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, which are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture have been announced by USDA.

Upon reviewing states’ plans for funding, USDA selected projects that support local and rural agriculture interests, increase the competitiveness of small producers, and promote or create direct marketing opportunities for specialty crop producers.

“Developing local and regional food systems that spur economic opportunity is the purpose of our ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative and these grants today are a significant part of achieving that goal,” said Kathleen Merrigan, USDA Deputy Secretary.

“We are pleased to be continuing this partnership in every state across the country to support their diverse efforts to promote healthy eating and grow specialty crop markets by expanding access to fresh, local foods.”

Funds will be used by the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, according to their plans submitted to USDA that describe how the state agency will carry out the program.

Summaries of all awards can be viewed at Specialty Crop Block Grants.

Through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), USDA “is committed to increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops; improving efficiency and reducing costs of distribution systems; assisting all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain in developing Good Agricultural, Good Handling and Good Manufacturing practices, including cost share arrangements for funding audits of small farmer, packer and processor systems; investing in specialty crop research; enhancing food safety; developing new and improved specialty crop varieties; eradicating pest and plant health issues; and fostering organic and sustainable production practices.”

Grant recipients in the South are:

• Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries — $442,987.67

• Arkansas Agriculture Department — $220,060.79

• Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services — $4,100,603.76

• Georgia Department of Agriculture — $1,017,362.93

• Kentucky Department of Agriculture — $237,590.08

• Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry — $338,982.59

• Mississippi Department of Agriculture — $268,376.55

• Missouri Department of Agriculture — $269,731.58

• North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services — $1,092,487.64

• South Carolina Department of Agriculture — $402,462.32

• Tennessee Department of Agriculture — $455,621.73

• Texas Department of Agriculture — $1,766,147.25

(For a full list of recipients, see SCBGP Awards)

Louisiana

Following the grant to Louisiana, Mike Strain, Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner, announced that the funds will be used for research and promotion projects to enhance the competitiveness of Louisiana-grown sweet potatoes and nursery crops.

The USDA grant will be coordinated by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) and the projects administered by the LSU AgCenter.

“These specialty block grants give industries an opportunity to do research and promotions,” Strain explained. “We chose two very deserving projects that would produce the highest degree of measurable benefits to Louisiana specialty crop producers.

“I believe through sound research and promotion, any Louisiana-grown specialty crop can compete with anything else that is in the marketplace.”

The sweet potato industry in Louisiana contributed more than $47,308,000 to the state’s economy in 2008, while the nursery crop industry contributed more than $170,177,000, according to LSU’s Louisiana Summary.

Mississippi

After nearly $270,000 in SCBGP money was awarded to fund 13 different statewide projects, Mississippi Rep. Travis Childers said “This significant USDA funding will help spur economic growth in Mississippi’s rural communities and ensure that our small producers have the support they need to be successful. I am pleased that 13 projects will automatically receive funding in Mississippi through this SCBGP grant, and look forward to seeing the benefits of their implementation.” Mississippi was awarded $268,376.55 to fund the following projects:

• Partner with Mississippi State University to assess the state of safety and quality of Mississippi farmed produce, train farmers on the latest food safety guidelines/regulations to ready them for certification, and assist them by also training selected extension specialists.

• Partner with Mississippi State University to develop a food safety manual and develop and deliver food safety training classes solely for farmers’ market managers and vendors of specialty crops and the value-added products made with specialty crops.

• Partner with the Mississippi Sweet Potato Council to participate in the Produce Marketing Association tradeshow, conduct grower educational seminars, conduct nutrition workshops for food nutritionists, and implement a radio campaign to promote sweet potatoes.

• Partner with Mississippi State University to further educate Mississippi producers in the field of specialty crop production by developing three venues — The Greenhouse Tomato Short Course, the Deep South Fruit & Vegetable Growers Conference and Trade Show, and the Fall Flower & Garden Fest.

• Partner with the Mississippi Urban Forest Council to establish a model fruit orchard and vegetable site in the downtown Jackson area and develop an educational toolkit to include everything one would need to know to begin a fruit and/or vegetable garden.

• Partner with Mississippi State University to develop and implement “Effective Education and Training for Prosperous Promotion and Marketing” to provide small specialty crop producers access to a state-wide promotion and marketing program through regional education and training. Monitoring to ensure all participants are specialty crop producers will take place at registration for all education, training, and demonstrations.

• Partner with the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association to increase the production and market share of Mississippi grown nursery plants through promotion of the Mississippi Medallion & Mississippi Medallion Plant of the Year program.

• Partner with the Mississippi Beekeepers Association to conduct beekeeping workshops and to conduct educational sessions about beekeeping to schools and libraries.

• Partner with Mississippi State University to investigate different high tunnel systems for specialty cut flower production in Mississippi and recommend best management practices to growers through Extension routes.

• Partner with Mississippi State University to develop best management practices with focus on nutrient management (soil amendment and fertilizer) to benefit transitional and organic vegetable and cut flower production systems in high tunnels.

• Partner with the Mississippi Agricultural & Forestry Experiment Station to collect southern heirloom apple cultivars and plant them in replicated trials to identify cultivars with good production potential in northern Mississippi using little or no fungicides and insecticides, and then evaluate fruit quality characteristics of the productive cultivars.

• Partner with Mississippi Beekeepers Association and Mississippi State University to test the efficacy of a potentially marketable trap for adult small hive beetle.

• Perform pre-award and post-award activities in order to administrate the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding and ensure that the State Agency and sub-awardees abide by Federal and State requirements and regulations.