WASHINGTON -- A day after the United Fresh Produce Association's
Washington Public Policy Conference wrapped up, Deputy Agriculture
Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the award of $55 million in specialty
block grants, a 10 percent increase over last year.
"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," Ms. Merrigan said Sept. 17.
"These grants are instrumental in helping specialty crop growers tackle the
issues they are facing today."
The $55 million will fund 827 projects in 50 states, the District of Columbia,
Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The grants are helpful to producers because they can funnel money to meet
state and local needs in a very direct way and in a flexible manner, according
to Robert Guenther, United's senior vice president for public policy. The $55
million also represents a step up from last year's level, a requirement under
the 2008 farm bill, which calls for USDA to dole out $55 million for fiscal 2010
until fiscal 2012.
California, the nation's largest producer of specialty crops, received the lion's
share of the block grants at $17.2 million. Florida ($4.7 million), Washington
($3.7 million), Texas ($1.7 million) and Oregon ($1.7 million) followed as top
block grant recipients.
"This money will be put to good use by many deserving recipients -- all
looking for ways to enrich the role agriculture plays in our lives," California
Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamura said in a Sept. 17 statement. Some of
the projects are management of Asian citrus pysllid in organic citrus, analysis
of global opportunities for specialty commodities, development of market-
based best practices for California kiwifruit and tests on strategies to improve
microbial safety in composting process control.
Specialty crop producers in Florida also welcomed the news.
"The need for funding for marketing programs as well as research to fight
invasive plant pests and diseases in Florida only continues to grow, so this is
welcome news for Florida specialty crop producers," said Lisa Lochridge,
public affairs director at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. "We see a
new pest come into our state on average of once a month, and four to six new
diseases are detected each year." The block grants can help growers remain
For Texas producers, the block grant awards are important because very few
companies and associations have the resources to set aside substantial sums
for special projects or research, according to John McClung, president and
chief executive officer of the Texas Produce Association.
"This past year, my association received a $20,000 block grant through the
Texas Department of Agriculture to multiply the educational value of our
convention through a package of publications, mailings, digital service kits
and pre- and post-convention surveys," he said. "Without the grant, we could
not have funded the outreach efforts, and our ability to educate the Texas
industry would have been reduced."