RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is currently accepting applications for $550,000 in federal grants to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Virginia. Industry and producer groups, agricultural associations, educational institutions, community-based organizations and non-profits are eligible to submit applications to VDACS for United States Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grants. The deadline for submitting applications is March 18.
“I encourage producer groups to take advantage of this opportunity to advance specialty crops production and research in Virginia. These grants help increase the potential for positive, long-term economic benefits for our agriculture industry, provide food options for a growing global population, and increase our focus on the incredible diversity of crops that can be cultivated in the Commonwealth,” said Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Jewel Bronaugh.
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 an eligible specialty crop. Some examples include research, promotion and marketing plans, as well as food safety projects and projects that improve food access. Approved projects may receive up to $60,000.
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 maybe eligible, provided their development enhances the competitiveness of specialty crops.
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;
- Improving the capacity of all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act, for example, developing “Good Agricultural Practices,” “Good Handling Practices,” “Good Manufacturing Practices,” and in cost-share arrangements for finding audits of such systems (including USDA GroupGAP) 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;
- Pest and disease control;
- Increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops;
- Improving efficiency and reducing costs of distribution systems; and
Guidelines, instructions and the application for the USDA Specialty Crop Competitive Grants are available at vdacs.virginia.gov/sales-specialty-crop-competitive-grant-program.shtml. Click on application form to apply. Applications may also be submitted via e-mail to Melissa Ball at email@example.com or by postal mail to: VDACS, Specialty Crop Grants Application, 102 Governor Street, Richmond, VA 23219.
Applications received after 5 p.m. on March 18 will not be considered for funding. All funding is contingent upon USDA’s notice of funds availability. The grant period will begin on Oct. 1 with each grant having a duration of two years.
— Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services