USDA spends $55 million on 827 projects nationwide

By WES SANDER

Capital Press

California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho have collectively received nearly half of USDA's specialty-crop grants for 2010.

The four states received $23.8 million to help boost production and marketing through the agency's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The money was awarded to a long list of individual projects through state agriculture departments.

USDA awarded $55 million to 827 projects nationwide. The agency last year awarded $49 million to fund 745 projects through the program. Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

CALIFORNIA

The California Department of Food and Agriculture received $17.3 million to fund 64 projects, the largest total of all states. California's farmers produce 40 percent of the nation's specialty crops, according to CDFA. Funding went to projects that will:

* Research safety in fresh produce, including the spread of E. coli and salmonella bacteria to vegetables;

* Promote the economic value of the specialty-crop industry through social media, and help counter perceptions that fresh produce bears dangerous levels of pesticide residue;

* Develop a multimedia project to promote integrated pest management;

* Boost markets in Europe and Canada;

* Provide assistance to beginning farmers;

* Help eradicate invasive species and promote habitat and forage crops for honey bees;

* Measure and boost the environmental sustainability of production practices.

OREGON

The Oregon Department of Agriculture received $1.8 million for 25 projects. Funding was awarded to projects that will:

* Help control pests and promote sustainability in crop production;

* Cultivate export markets for potatoes, cranberries, cherries and pears;

* Boost markets by developing connections between producers and crop handlers and by studying farm-to-school programs;

* Boost the Christmas tree industry, in part by smoothing quality and quarantine issues with Mexico, Japan and Hawaii.

WASHINGTON

The Washington State Department of Agriculture received $3.7 million to fund 28 projects. Funding was awarded to projects that will:

* Help control microbes and pests, including preparation for the European grapevine moth;

* Develop farmers markets and boost schools' purchases of specialty commodities

* Provide growers with technical and business-development assistance, including a web-based effort to help boost sustainability;

* Organize trade missions to Asia and Latin America and market pears in Mexico;

* Boost agritourism and help small producers develop and market niche products;

* Study the barriers to maintaining a stable and legal workforce;

* Educate farmers and landowners on the issues raised by land-tenure agreements.

IDAHO

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture received $1 million to fund 18 projects. Funding went to projects that will:

* Market apples to schools and boost commodity consumption through television advertising;

* Develop drought, salinity and disease resistance in potatoes, and develop a virus-resistant pinto bean seed that could be sold nationally and exported to Mexico;

* Expand online food distribution;

* Boost sustainability and promote food safety;

* Help grape growers adopt sizing techniques to compete with California grapes;

* Develop dryland vineyard production.

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