$390,000 in USDA Specialty Crop Block Grants Available for Virginia Agricultural Interests Announced

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is accepting applications for United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant funding.  Agricultural associations, industry and producer groups, community-based organizations, educational institutions and non-profits that seek to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Virginia are eligible to submit proposals for grants up to $60,000 per project.  Individual producers are not eligible for grants.  VDACS anticipates administering nearly $390,000 in funds for the development of specialty crops.  The deadline for submitting applications is April 14, 2016. 
Speaking about the grants, Governor Terry McAuliffe said, “Our administration is committed to job creation and economic development throughout the Commonwealth, especially in one of Virginia’s largest industries – agriculture.  As we work to build the new Virginia economy, we will continue to keep our farmers and producers at the forefront of our economic development and jobs creation strategic plans.  I am pleased to announce the availability of these federal dollars for specialty crops and encourage our producer groups to take advantage of this opportunity.   There is great potential for positive long-term economic benefits for our agriculture industry from increasing our focus on the incredible diversity of crops that can be cultivated in the Commonwealth.”

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, provided their development enhances 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:
Enhancing food safety;
·         Assisting all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain in developing “Good Agricultural Practices,” “Good Handling Practices,” “Good Manufacturing Practices,” and in cost-share arrangements for funding audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors;
·         Investing in specialty crop research, including research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes;
·         Developing new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops;
·         Enhancing pest and disease control; and development of organic and sustainable production practices;
·         Increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops;
·         Improving efficiency and reducing costs of distribution systems;
·         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 vdacs.virginia.gov/sales-specialty-crop-competitive-grant-program.shtml(click on Application Form to apply), via e-mail to Melissa Ball at melissa.ball@vdacs.virginia.govor by mailing VDACS, Specialty Crop Grants Application, 102 Governor Street, Richmond, VA  23219.  Applications received after the April 14, 2016, deadline will not be considered for funding.  All funding is contingent upon USDA’s notice of funds availability. The duration of each grant is two years, and the grant period will begin October 1, 2016.

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