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USDA awards $101 million to specialty crop producers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Oct. 1 the award of more than $100 million in grants to support specialty crop producers that provide 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 fund748 initiatives across the United States 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.

"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," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a press release. "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."

California was awarded $18,708,269 for 69 projects, a number of which are through the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis. Additionally, the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board will receive funds to implement a multi-media public relations campaign using promotional devices and frequent outreach to bring more people to a web-based hub of information on social media sites to educate consumers of actions completed by the California cantaloupe industry to ensure food safety for public health.

In Florida, which received $4,484,161 for 24 projects, the Citrus Research & Development Foundation will use some of the funds to develop and deliver solutions associated with planting new citrus groves in Florida that will grow to productive age and provide sustainable yields even in the presence of huanglongbing, or citrus greening, by determining the role of nutritional and insecticidal treatments in the mitigation of HLB, developing methods for use of soil-applied insecticides to protect young trees; bringing young trees infected with HLB into production using intensive horticultural management strategies; and developing and testing advanced production systems for efficient, sustainable citrus groves.

Michigan received $1,339,490 for 25 projects, including one by the Michigan Apple Committee to continue to develop Chicago markets by leveraging the locally grown movement, focusing consumer promotions on premium varieties, and promoting apples for health and nutrition benefits.

Arizona received $1,265, 138 for 17 projects, one being an initiative by the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Food Safety Committee to provide food-safety training resources to leafy green and fresh produce growers, shippers and harvesters, and to conduct outreach, train-the-trainer workshops and webinars to the fresh produce industry, and to help industry understand and prepare for LGMA food safety audits.

Georgia received $1,132,564 for 17 projects, with funds going to the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association to help expand the marketing of Georgia produce and increase the competiveness of Georgia products by supporting the participation of 15 to 20 specialty crop farms and agribusiness organizations at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in October. The Vidalia Onion Committee also will receive aid to increase retail sales and consumption of Vidalia onions by a younger demographic by developing, producing, disseminating and promoting an integrated baseball-themed campaign that encourages retail stocking and promotion of Vidalia onions.

Pennsylvania received $1,029,172 for 22 projects, including one by the American Mushroom Institute to provide guidance and training to the mushroom farm community on implementation of the provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act pertaining to mushroom production.

New Jersey received $816,127 to fund 13 initiatives to benefit Garden State crops such as fruits, vegetables, horticulture and nursery. Specialty crops account for $882.4 million in sales annually in the Garden State.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will use a portion of the funding to support the popular Jersey Fresh and Jersey Grown programs. A majority of the projects support agricultural marketing and cooperative development.

"These USDA grants provide immeasurable benefits for our specialty crop producers," New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher said in a statement. "The organizations receiving the grants will use the funds toward research, market development, education and outreach, highlighting the many benefits a vibrant agriculture industry brings to the lives of Garden State residents."

For a full list of awards and projects by state, go to www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5100734.