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Carolinas receive nearly $2 million in specialty crop grants

North and South Carolina farmers trying to combat pests and diseases attacking their blueberries, sweet potatoes and other specialty crops are getting help from the federal government. The U.S. Agriculture Department has provided nearly $2 million for a total of 35 programs in the Tar Heel and Palmetto states to research or promote home-grown fruits, vegetables and nursery plants.

The money will go to universities, local agencies and nonprofit organizations.SPECIALTY-GRANTS11213-SWEET-POTATOESGrowers of sweet potatoes, North Carolina’s number one produce crop, would benefit from a specialty crop grant project to eradicate the sweet potato weevil in North Carolina. It’s part of a $118 million national effort funded by the farm bill approved earlier this year. Its goal is to boost specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops. North Carolina received $1.175 million for 15 projects; South Carolina received about $602,000 for 20 projects.

North Carolina projects include assistance to specialty crop growers through a partnership with the Carolinas Farm Stewardship Association to develop a food-safety support program and to establish community-based, sustainable food-safety systems. And in a second project with the Farm Stewardship group, offer specialty crop producers seeking to take advantage of the high-value market for organic produce by helping them transition to certified-organic production.

Other North Carolina projects include a partnership with North Carolina State University to identify, collect, virus-test and propagate old and new cultivars in order to provide growers with a reliable source of productive muscadine grape plants and to establish baselines for an integrated pest management program to eradicate the sweet potato weevil in North Carolina.

South Carolina projects include partnering with the South Carolina Fruit, Vegetable and Specialty Crop Association to increase the visibility of the state’s specialty crops by rebranding the association and refocusing its media presence. Also, in cooperation with Lowcountry Local First, to increase the number of consumers eating specialty crops and increase the number of specialty crop growers by promoting the Growing New Farmers program.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the South Carolina Watermelon Association, will seek to increase the consumption of watermelon by providing education regarding its health benefits while promoting the South Carolina watermelon industry to retailers, wholesalers and the public through an extensive industry spokesperson program. Also, in cooperation with Clemson University, to develop a larger peach by using a wide and diverse set of germ plasm to accumulate many traits together into a single cultivar and distribute these findings to producers.

Also, in cooperation with the Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture will try to create a stronger rural economy by increasing the volume of specialty crops distributed through local food hubs and managing the greater number of specialty crop farmers participating in the food hubs.