Millions allocated to promote vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits
By SEAN ELLIS
State agriculture departments expect to award about the same amount of money in specialty crop grants in fiscal 2013 as they did in 2012.
The departments have received word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that $55 million will be available in 2013 for state specialty crop block grant programs.
The Idaho State Department of Agriculture has historically received just under $1 million annually for its specialty crop block grant program and the department expects to receive close to that amount again this year, said Amanda Gibson, who administers the ISDA's specialty crop grant program.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture expects to award about $1.5 million in specialty crop grants this year, about the same as last year, said Gary Roth, the ODA's marketing director.
With the extension of the farm bill, "every state is doing its planning assuming the funding level will be about the same," he said.
If cuts tied to the so-called "sequestration" occur, the amount could be reduced by about 5 percent, he added.
The deadline to apply for Oregon's specialty crop program was Feb. 19. The deadlines to apply for grants through the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture have also passed.
Washington expects to award about $3 million in 2013, the same as last year, WSDA communications director Hector Castro said.
California awarded $18 million each of the past two years.
Specialty crops include fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.
Idaho has awarded about $4 million over the past four years and the deadline to apply this year is April 5.
The Idaho Nursery and Landscape Association has received five grants and will be applying for more this year, administrator Ann Bates said. The money has been used to launch a "Plant Something" consumer awareness campaign and fund a map of wholesale nurseries in Idaho that was sent to landscape contractors and retailers in several states.
The grant money proved particularly helpful during the recent recession and has helped an industry with limited marketing funds do things it couldn't otherwise afford to do, Bates said.
The Plant Something campaign has helped the industry reach outside its box, Bates said.
"We're trying to reach out beyond our normal audience and get people that are not normally buying our products," she said. "That just costs a lot more."
Idaho's dry bean industry has received one of the grants every year and the money has been used for market development and research projects associated with Mexico, said Idaho Bean Commission administrator Lacey Menasco.
"Without specialty crop grants, we don't have enough funding ourselves to do ... market development and research projects like that," she said.
The commission will seek another grant this year to continue those efforts.
The ISDA awarded $844,000 worth of grants for 12 projects last year and $926,000 to eight projects in 2011. Twelve of 24 applications were funded in 2012 and eight of 16 in 2011. To be eligible, projects must enhance the competitiveness of domestically grown specialty crops and must provide a benefit to more than just the applicant.
Application guidelines are available at www.agri.idaho.gov under "marketing and development" and then "specialty crop grant." Contact Gibson at 208-332-8538 for more information.