USDA program will distribute $49 million across U.S.

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

Western states will receive a large share of federal funds for projects that benefit specialty crops.

Fifty-five projects in California, 14 projects in Washington and 24 in Oregon are lined up to receive funding through the USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops.

According to a press release from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the total amount of funding available nationally was $49 million. California leads all states with $16.3 million. Washington came in third with $2.9 million, behind Florida's $4.07 million. Oregon ranked fifth with $1.66 million, behind Texas' $1.75 million.

Idaho received $882,094.50 and will fund 11 projects, Idaho Department of Agriculture trade specialist Lacey Menasco said.

Lindsay Eng, special projects coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said each state was given an allocation based on its specialty crops and decided which projects with which to partner. The projects were then submitted to USDA for approval.

"It's very competitive," Eng said. "Obviously in the ag industry a lot of people can use funding, especially for new projects. We unfortunately can't fund them all, but it certainly is a help to those industries that did get funded this year."

Washington Department of Agriculture Director Dan Newhouse said proposals were examined for projects that could increase producers' ability to compete on the world market, through research, education or promotion.

"Anytime a proposed project has a broad impact on a larger part of a particular segment of the industry, that certainly bodes well," he said. "It can impact more producers."

USDA also looks for cooperative efforts between states, Newhouse said, so representatives of crops shared by Washington and Oregon got together with their proposals.

Newhouse said his department will monitor progress of Washington's projects, and it is also beginning to look to next year's program proposals.

"We're looking at ways we can improve our selection process, as well as help those who were not selected this year in ways they can perhaps better target the goals and mission of the block grant program," he said.

Charlie Crabb is director of education and operations for the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, which received $261,100 toward a project to develop its leadership training program for the specialty crop segment of the agriculture industry.

"It reinforces that we're thinking in the right direction," Crabb said of receiving the funding. "What we see as important in terms of leadership development is recognized by the industry and those people that reviewed the grants. We're excited they saw value in what we're proposing."

The impact of the projects should be realized in the near future, Newhouse said. Many of the Washington projects have start-up dates or are projects ready to go.

"I would expect in the next few months -- and certainly in the next six months -- we should start to see some results of the work of some of these programs," he said.

Matthew Weaver is based in Spokane. E-mail: mweaver@capitalpress.com .

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