BOISE — The Idaho State Department of Agriculture received 16 fewer proposals for specialty crop block grant funding this year and the total request for funding was also down substantially from last year.

This happened despite the fact the program in 2015 will again receive almost twice as much funding from the USDA for the program than it has received in previous years.

The ISDA received $1.91 million from USDA last year and will receive a similar amount this year. That is almost twice as much as the state has received from the federal specialty crop block grant program in previous years.

But while the state received a record 38 requests for funding last year and a total funding request of $3.64 million, also a record, the ISDA only received 22 proposals requesting a total of $2.1 million this year.

“I personally thought that with more funding available, we may receive more requests,” said Amanda Gibson, who administers the ISDA program.

This year’s totals were in line with the years prior to 2014, she said.

ISDA found out right before last year’s application deadline that it would receive almost twice as much funding as normal because of changes in the new farm bill and it wasn’t able to notify the state’s specialty crop industry of that fact.

So the department extended the deadline for another five weeks and received an additional 17 applications.

Whether the department announces a second round of applications for 2015 depends on the competitiveness of the applications submitted, Gibson said.

Three-member judging teams with no conflicts of interest evaluate each project, score them and include comments. ISDA officials review those scores and have the final say on which projects get funded.

“If there are not enough solid projects, we may consider going out for a second application round,” Gibson said. “At this point, we have to wait until the review panel completes their scoring and we can evaluate the results.”

Gibson said the department received more applications than normal this year that focused on unique economic development plans that seek to increase value-added production.

Most of the applications the ISDA receives are for straight research or promotion and marketing projects, but the department received several this year that fall outside those boundaries, Gibson said.

“We had a few pretty creative ideas this year,” she said.

The ISDA expects to announce which projects will be funded before June.

Winery owner Ron Bitner told the Capital Press he and a group of others submitted an application seeking funding to set up a series of mini weather stations around the Treasure Valley in Southwestern Idaho.

The temperature sensors could help predict weather conditions and improve the cold hardiness of wine grapes in the Snake River American Viticultural Area, he said.

“This research addresses a crucial production issue for Idaho wine growers by improving the understanding of cold damage caused by extreme weather events,” the proposal states.

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