Federal grants reach specialty crops
Program provides states with money for research, market development
By STEVE BROWN
CHIMACUM, Wash. -- Finnriver Farm and Cidery produced its first bottle of hard apple cider early in 2010. Last year, it turned out 15,000 gallons.
"It's wonderful to see what's happening in the Pacific Northwest," said Crystie Kisler, who with her husband, Keith, owns Finnriver. "Folks in Washington identify with the apple, and they're interested to see variety. Consumers are getting more adventurous."
Giving a boost to the emerging hard cider industry was a 2011 USDA specialty crop block grant to the Northwest Agriculture Business Center in Mount Vernon, Wash.
David Bauermeister of the center said the $74,990 from the grant supports cider research, education and marketing, including the following:
* Washington State University has cider apple variety trials under way and is researching mechanical harvesting.
* The center has presented week-long courses on cidermaking.
* The center also works on marketing with the Northwest Cider Association, which has 19 members in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.
Kisler said she and her husband found the course at the center a "tremendous benefit" to their business.
The project was among 21 in Washington state last year that were awarded a total of $3.1 million in grants.
In California, 73 projects received a total of $18.7 million. In Idaho, nine projects received a total of $1 million, and in Oregon, 27 projects received a total of $1.7 million.
Pre-proposals for the 2012 round of grants are due to the Washington State Department of Agriculture by Jan. 23. Other states have different deadlines.
The USDA has made $3 million available to Washington state this year through the grant program, which was authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill.
Submissions should be e-mailed to WSDA staff at email@example.com. The pre-proposals will be reviewed by WSDA, and successful applicants will be asked to submit full proposals for further review.
The WSDA seeks projects that improve food safety, develop organic and sustainable production practices, promote domestic and international markets, control pests and diseases and protect key resources, such as water, labor and land.
Washington State University received six grants in 2011, which totaled nearly $2.8 million. WSU's grants went to such activities as tracking and gathering statistics on the organic sector, increased documentation and implementation of Good Agricultural Practices, developing a "report card" on Concord grapes and developing a fruit frost forecast.
Other grants went to projects in cranberries, horticulture, potatoes, hops, apples, wine, farmers' markets and the WSDA Food Safety program.
USDA will announce the 2012 awards in late September.