By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE --The Idaho State Department of Agriculture received a record 26 applications for specialty crop grants this year, and many appear to be related to the proposed Food Safety Modernization Act rules.
The total eclipsed by two the previous record for total applications for grant money available through the ISDA's specialty crop block grant program.
ISDA officials expect to have nearly $1 million available for grants in 2013 and based on past years, about half of the applications will be funded.
A total of 24 applications seeking $1.8 million were submitted in 2012 and 12 of the applications totaling $844,000 were approved. In 2011, 16 applications seeking $1.6 million were submitted and eight totaling $926,000 were approved.
ISDA officials expect to announce this year's grant recipients near the end of May, said Amanda Gibson, who administers the department's specialty crop grant program.
The Idaho Wine Commission applied for and received its first grant from the program last year and will try for two in 2013.
The commission is seeking a $50,000 grant to continue its effort to increase market share of Idaho wine within the state through advertising.
It has also asked for a $30,000 grant to conduct an economic impact study to determine how important Idaho's wine industry is to the state. The last such study in 2008 showed a $73 million economic impact but the number of wineries in Idaho has grown from 32 to 50 since then. "I'm really excited to see what it is now because we've grown a lot," said IWC Executive Director Moya Shatz-Dolsby.
The Idaho potato industry has received numerous grants through the program over the years that have helped with variety development and will try for more this year, said Pat Kole, the Idaho Potato Commission's vice president of legal and government affairs.
Kole said that because of the formula USDA uses to distribute funding to states for these grants, 80 percent of the money Idaho receives for the program comes as a result of Idaho potato production.
The ISDA saw an increase in the number of projects relating to food safety, which Gibson believes is due to the proposed FSMA rules, which were released in January.
"Producers are concerned with being able to meet the FSMA requirements, as well as ensure cleaner production practices overall so that one bad batch doesn't ruin it for all producers of the same commodity," she said.
At least a third of the applications this year are related to combating disease or fixing other issues that could decrease yields or require additional inputs, Gibson said.
The results of a recent survey that asked people involved in the specialty crop industry to rank their priorities will be one of the factors ISDA uses to determine which applications are approved.
Increasing marketing and promotion efforts received the most "very important" responses, followed by researching best production practices, conducting consumer education and enhancing pest and disease control.