Governor Terry McAuliffe has announced that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is accepting applications for federal grants benefiting specialty crops. The Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant is offered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Agricultural associations, industry groups, community-based organizations, and producer groups that seek to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Virginia are eligible to submit proposals for grants up to $60,000 per project. VDACS anticipates administering nearly $565,000 in funds for the development of specialty crop projects. The deadline for returning applications is April 2, 2015.
Speaking about the grants, Governor McAuliffe said, “Given its standing as one of Virginia’s largest private industries, I am committed to keeping agriculture at the forefront of my administration’s strategic economic development and job creation plans. I encourage producer groups to take advantage of the opportunity to apply for project funding that will enhance the competitiveness and, ultimately, the marketability of Virginia’s many specialty crops. Full utilization of these types of grants and others is an important aspect of our overall efforts to build a new Virginia economy.”
Specialty crops are categorized as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and nursery crops, including floriculture, that are not typically covered by traditional crop insurance. Specialty crops do not include standard commodities such as corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, cotton or tobacco. Processed foods are eligible as long as they enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. Specialty crop competitive grant proposals must be specific and explain how an association, industry group or organization will use the funds to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. Some examples include research, promotion and marketing plans, as well as food safety projects and projects that improve food access.
In awarding the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funds, VDACS will give priority to projects with the sole purpose of enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops as they pertain to the following issues:
- Increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops;
- Improving efficiency and reducing costs of distribution systems;
- Assisting all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain in developing Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices, and Good Manufacturing Practices;
- Investing in specialty crop research, including organic research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes;
- Enhancing food safety;
- Developing new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops, pest and disease control;
- Developing organic and sustainable production practices;
- Developing local and regional food systems; and
- Improving food access in underserved communities.
Guidelines, instructions, and the application for the USDA Specialty Crop Competitive Grants are available online at http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing/scrop.shtml(click on Application Form to apply), via e-mail to Melissa Ball at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at VDACS, 102 Governor Street, Richmond, VA 23219.