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USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants create new economic opportunities

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in late September USDA will invest $52 million in grants to support America’s specialty crop producers through the 2013 Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program awards. The funding includes 54 block grants to the United States and territories that will support 694 initiatives nationwide. These grants will assist producers of fresh fruits and vegetables and help strengthen markets for specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture.

“These investments will strengthen rural American communities by supporting local and regional markets and improving access to fresh, high quality fruits and vegetables for millions of Americans,” said Secretary Vilsack. “These grants also help growers make food safety enhancements, solve research needs, and make better informed decisions to increase profitability and sustainability.”

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for Fiscal Year 2013 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.

• Increasing healthy food access in underserved communities.

The goal of the 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, and Guam received grants this year.

Since 2006, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which is administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has awarded over $293 million. The program is part of USDA’s integrated approach to programs and policies that stimulate food- and agriculturally-based community economic development. A growing number of specialty crop producers are selling into local and regional markets. This year, all of the states and territories receiving Specialty Crop Block Grants are funding projects related to local and regional food systems.

States and territories are also investing their funds from the 2013 Specialty Crop Block Grants in projects dealing with the following key issues:

• Almost $3.4 million is going to initiatives that help new and beginning farmers.

• More than $4.3 million will support child and adult nutrition.

• More than $4.5 million will support projects focused Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices.

• More than $4.3 million will fund additional food safety initiatives.

• More than $14.3 million will support local and regional food systems.

• More than $8.5 million will support sustainable agricultural practices.

Visit www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp to read the 2013 project summaries and view a list of awards by location.

The Specialty Crop Block Grants, administered by USDA’s AMS are designed to help strengthen the market for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. AMS encourages states to develop projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, sustain the livelihood of American farmers, and strengthen local economies.

Many of the grants announced this round contribute to the development of local and regional food systems. USDA coordinates its work on this issue through the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2), launched in 2009. KYF2 fosters new opportunities for farmers and ranchers and economic development in rural communities; promotes locally and regionally produced and processed foods; cultivates healthy eating habits and educated, empowered consumers; and expands access to affordable fresh and local food in underserved communities. KYF2 also leads a national conversation about food and agriculture to strengthen the connection between consumers and farmers.

An interactive view of USDA programs that support local and regional food system development is available at the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass. The KYF Compass is a digital guide to USDA resources related to local and regional food systems. The Compass consists of an interactive U.S. map of USDA-supported local and regional food projects and an accompanying narrative documenting the results of this work through case studies, photos and video content.

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