February 22, 2010

Money for nuts (fruits and vegetables, too)

Record amount of specialty crop grants available in 2010

Do you have a great idea for increasing sales of Missouri-grown fruits, nuts, vegetables or nursery stock? Has your group developed a plan to teach kids about healthy eating? Would you like to promote local foods, organic crops or sustainable agriculture? The Missouri Department of Agriculture wants to help.

Groups and organizations involved in the production or marketing of grapes, nuts, vegetables and other non-traditional crops are encouraged to apply for their share of more than $300,000 to be distributed in the 2010 Specialty Crops Block Grant Program.

"By seeking new ways to enhance the competitiveness of markets, specialty crops provide alternative avenues of income," said Director of Agriculture Dr. Jon Hagler. "The specialty crop grants will help producers improve efficiency, reduce farm costs, address environmental concerns and increase marketing of their operations."

The grants are intended to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, which are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops, including floriculture. These crops allow producers to succeed on smaller acreages and often are resistant to swings in markets that plague traditional agricultural commodities.

This year's selection process will favor organizations directly involved in education, food safety and the marketing, promotion and production of specialty crops. Fewer than 25 percent of grant funds will be awarded to research projects. Proposals for grant amounts up to $30,000 per project will be considered.

The grants are administered by the department's Agricultural Business Development Division and funded through USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service. Grant applicants are encouraged to show how a project or proposal would benefit the public or the specialty crop industry. While projects that solely benefit individual businesses or groups are not eligible, individual producers and organizations are encouraged to form partnerships that advance particular crop sectors or the specialty crops industry as a whole.

In 2009, 13 Missouri agricultural groups and organizations received almost $270,000 through the program, with grants averaging about $18,000 each. This year, $307,000 will be awarded to specialty crop producers, marketers and educational institutions in Missouri, representing the largest distribution in the state since the program's inception in 2004. 

The deadline for applications is March 31. For more information, log onto mda.mo.gov, e-mail abd@mda.mo.gov or call the Agricultural Business Development Division office at (573) 751-4762.