The 2014 Farm Bill has already set in motion and accomplished so much
for our country. With historic support for specialty crop producers
across the country, the bill will touch every one of our lives through
one of the most basic of human needs: food.
Specialty crops make
up the bulk of what we eat — all of our fruits and vegetables, tree nuts
and dried fruits—as well as things like cut flowers and nursery crops.
They are half of MyPlate at every meal, and the daily source for most of
our vitamins and nutrients. For many in rural America, these crops not
only provide nutrition, they are also a primary source of income.
nearly a decade, USDA supported specialty crop growers across the
country through the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) program. These
grants enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, sustain the
livelihood of American farmers, and strengthen rural economies.
Last year, the program provided $55 million for 700 state-selected
projects nationwide that contributed to food safety improvements,
increased access to healthy food, and provided new research to help
growers increase profitability and sustainability. The new farm bill
expands support through the SCBG program to more than $66 million in
grants for specialty crop growers — a historic high.
focusing on everything from food safety to business planning, the block
grants are designed to increase the long-term success of producers and
broaden the market for specialty crops. Many states select projects that
dovetail with community needs, such as establishing farm to school
programs, providing training in good agricultural handling practices
(GAP), creating organic and sustainable production practices, and
developing food hubs that will increase opportunities for small-scale
In Michigan, a 2009 grant helped the state Department of
Agriculture and Resource Development work with partners to increase
sales opportunities for specialty crop farmers in Southeast Michigan.
They were able to identify and overcome barriers that prevented schools
from purchasing products directly from local farmers, and ended up
increasing the sales of apples, cucumbers, peppers, red potatoes,
broccoli and several other crops within their state.
in Idaho established a partnership between the state Department of
Agriculture and Boise State University-Tech to provide workshops that
helped improve food safety and implement sustainable production
practices for onions, potatoes, apples, cherries, peas and lentils. The
project resulted in higher audit scores, increased efficiency and
sustainability for participating companies, which both improve consumer
confidence and help producers’ bottom lines in the long run.
dedication to strengthening rural America and increasing opportunities
for specialty crop farmers will help keep our nation’s economy — and
people — healthy for years to come. This week, we made the next round of
SCBG funds available so that states can begin funding projects. If
you’re interested in applying, I encourage you to contact your state
department of agriculture. You can find more information at