State accepting applications for specialty crop grants

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is again accepting applications for its Specialty Crop Block Grants for 2015.

Elaine Lidholm, communications officer for the department, noted that the program is “not available to individual farmers,” but it is there for farming groups.

More specifically, the department seeks to award organizations, agencies or groups involved in specialty crops that are seeking to enhance “competitiveness of specialty crops” in a variety of issues.

Specialty crops, Lidholm said, can include a wide range of commodities from apples and vegetables to Christmas trees and nursery crops or flowers.

Part of the project’s goal is to provide funding for group research project seeking to enhance industries in specific manners — such as food safety, developing organic production practices and improving food access.

“A lot of theses grants do go to research facilities,” Lidholm said, adding that this includes local research branches such as the Alson H. Smith Jr. Research Center in Winchester.

Last October, the research center received $38,000 for a multidimensional organic apple research project that will look at various ways to increase organic apple farming in Virginia and the country as a whole.

Greg Peck, assistant professor of tree-fruit horticulture at Virginia Tech, said that the research will be getting underway this year.

According to Lidholm, there is “a fair amount of competition” for the funding each year. However, the state has a limit of about $60,000 that it can award for any given agency or group project.

“A lot of these are smaller groups or groups representing smaller growers, so $60,000 is still a very significant sum,” Lidholm said, adding that some groups that apply will receive “less than that.”

The Specialty Crop Block Grants is a program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture started in 2004 and has provided various levels of funding for each state.

For example, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service reported that Virginia awarded just under $567,000 to 16 projects in 2014, over $458,000 to 19 projects in 2013 and about $595,000 to 23 projects in 2012.

“The funding available is always subject to the federal government’s funding, so we never know if they are going to do it again next year,” Lidholm said.

Lidholm said that the state has begun reaching out to local groups and agencies that have either applied in the past or never applied before.

Groups or agencies looking to apply for a Specialty Crop Block Grants can do so at this website: http://tinyurl.com/l6se4cy. Deadline for applications is 5 p.m. April 2.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com