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Vilsack announces nearly $100 million in grants for specialty crops, other food programs

WASHINGTON — Nearly $100 million in federal grants will be available for food programs, including $63 million to support specialty crop producers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Monday, March 16.

The new funding was unveiled at a speech at the National Farmers Union Convention in Wichita, KS, and later by a press conference with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and others.

At the same meeting, Vilsack announced changes in the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program that he said would help increase access to the program for producers who grow fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops and who do not have risk protection available through crop insurance products.

“With these changes, more farmers can enter the specialty crop marketplace with peace of mind that they have risk protection should disaster strike,” Vilsack said.

The $63.2 million special crop grants are allocated to states and territories based on a formula that considers both specialty crop acreage and production value.

Since 2008, more than 3,000 projects have been financed through special crop block grants, with a growing number focused on nutrition education, Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, said during a press conference. United Fresh has been a vocal advocate for the farm bill program.

The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion programs provide another $26.6 million divided equally between its two grant programs. One component provides $13.3 million to support projects for direct farmer-to-consumer marketing projects such as farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, roadside stands and agritourism. The other portion offers $13.3 million in funds for projects that support intermediary supply chain activities for businesses that process, distribute, aggregate and store locally or regionally produced food products.

These types of programs can make food hubs sustainable for sourcing fresh or slightly processed produce for schools, said Sarah Waring, executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy.

“These grant programs provide vital support to specialty crop producers, whose fruits and vegetables fill over half of the MyPlate recommendations,” said Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Anne Alonzo. "They also support local and regional food systems that are meeting consumer demand and creating economic opportunities in rural and urban communities around the country."

Lastly, Vilsack announced $1 million for the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program to support research projects that address challenges and opportunities in marketing, transporting and distributing U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally.

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