State gets $4.4M in grants
JOHN BUCHANANFlorida has been awarded more than $4.4 million in specialty crop block grants that will fund 23 projects that enhance the competitiveness of the state's specialty crops.
Published: November 14, 2012
Published: November 14, 2012
The funding represents the final allocation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under provisions included in the federal farm bill that has expired, without an extension or passage of a new bill by Congress.
The popular and effective program defines specialty crops as "fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture."
Most farm bill programs are designed to help farmers make direct payments, such as subsidies, to growers. The block grant program allows states to identify and fund specific needs that address the broader agricultural industry as a critical economic resource.
All 50 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, are eligible for such block grants. Amounts are based on sales volume of specialty crops produced within each state or territory.
"Specialty crop funding is important," said Marshall Wiseheart, management analyst in the division of marketing at Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Tallahassee. "The overall goal of the program from USDA's standpoint is to promote increased opportunities for specialty crop producers. One of the basic guiding principles of the program is that the eligible projects must enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. They can do that in a number of different ways, whether that's research projects, promotional or marketing projects, or projects that enhance trade, food safety or security, education or increased consumption."
Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association in Maitland, cited the importance of USDA block grants to the state.
"The block grants are unique in a farm bill in that they provide USDA an opportunity through state departments of agriculture to tailor programs to growers in individual states where there is a demonstrated need for such financial support," Stuart said. "The program has been remarkably popular and effective here in Florida in looking at specific areas where there is a clear need for things such as production-related research, market development, and consumer education. The program funds those kinds of projects. But it also gives Florida Department of Agriculture a remarkable amount of flexibility to ensure that it stays current in addressing those kinds of needs."
The new funding, overseen by Florida Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam and program administrator Joshua Johnson, will fund 23 projects that include initiatives to develop new and improved seed varieties, manage pests and diseases, develop organic and sustainable production practices, enhance food safety, enhance good agricultural practices in the specialty crop distribution chain, improve the efficiency and reduce the costs of distribution systems, support specialty crop research with a focus on conservation and the environment, and increase nutritional knowledge and consumption of specialty crops.
Specific entities and programs that will receive funding include the Citrus Research and Development Foundation; Florida Agriculture in the Classroom; Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers; Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association; Florida Specialty Crop Foundation; Florida Tomato Committee; The Lincoln Center Foundation; Red Hills Small Farm Alliance; Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida; University of Florida; Urban Oasis Project; and USDA Agricultural Resource Service.
Such broad-based funding of diverse programs and projects is critical to Florida's role as a major producer of specialty crops, Stuart said.
The good news, he added, is that the specialty crop block grant program is supported by so-called baseline funding that ensures its continuation in a new farm bill when Congress finally passes one.
"Congress has recognized that this is a very strong program," Stuart said. "I think they've been impressed by the quality and diversity of the projects that have been undertaken by the program, so that's why both the House and Senate have either maintained or urged increases in the funding of the program in the next farm bill. That's because it's doing the job it was intended to do."