Ag Secretary Vilsack Announces Investments in Specialty Crops to Help Strengthen New Markets
10/01/2012 – Madison, Wis. – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $101 million in grants to support America's specialty crops producers, who provide the fruits, vegetables, nuts and other nutritious foods for millions of healthy American meals each day. Approximately $55 million of the total will be invested in 56 specialty crop block grants to states that fund 748 initiatives across the country to strengthen markets and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers. An additional $46 million will go to support new and continuing research and extension activities to address challenges and opportunities for growers and businesses that rely on a sustainable, profitable specialty crops industry.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has supported efforts to strengthen local and regional food systems for farmers of all types and sizes, helping them take advantage of new opportunities and succeed in today's marketplace. Thanks to this support for the diversity of American agriculture, the sector is experiencing one of its best periods in history. Today, both agricultural exports and net farm income are at record levels, while farm debt has been cut in half since the 1980s. Overall, American agriculture supports 1 in 12 jobs in the United States.
"By investing in projects that stimulate growth and development for specialty crop growers of all sizes, we're helping American farmers establish a marketplace for new businesses opportunities in each region of the country," said Vilsack. "These investments will support local and regional markets, and improve access to healthy food for millions of children and supply thousands of farmers markets, restaurants and other businesses with fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables. The grants also help growers solve technology needs or make better informed decisions on profitability and sustainability, leading to stronger rural American communities and businesses."
The goal of USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands received grants this year, totaling $55 million.
The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for fiscal year 2012 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
Since 2006, the program administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has awarded $240 million. The program is part of USDA's integrated approach to programs and policies that stimulate food- and agriculturally-based community economic development.
Vilsack's announcement today also highlighted $46 million in new and continuing grants through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which supports the specialty crop industry by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. Specialty crops are defined in law as "fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture." Funded projects address five focus areas: 1) improve crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; 2) address threats from pests and diseases; 3) improve production efficiency, productivity and profitability; 4) develop new innovations and technologies and 5) develop methods to improve food safety.
SCRI projects are funded through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and address research and extension needs for crops that span the entire spectrum of specialty crops production, from researching plant genetics to improving crop characteristics; identifying and addressing threats from pests and diseases; improving production and profitability; developing new production innovations and technologies; and developing methods to respond to food safety hazards.
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