The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) has awarded nearly $90,000 in grants, during the current funding cycle, to 34 agricultural research and marketing improvement projects throughout West Virginia.

The awards are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Gus R. Douglass said the funding will pay dividends in the future by improving the competiveness of West Virginia agriculture and by drawing more individuals into farm-related activities.

“In the past three years, we have provided $270,000 in funding to 85 projects, and I have been quite impressed with the creativity of the applications,” said Commissioner Douglass. “I am particularly pleased that we have had a number of youth projects that have qualified for funding. We need to encourage our young people to become involved in agriculture so that our food supply will be secure in the future.”

The grant program encourages cooperative efforts to integrate technology at the farm level, improve marketing and promotion of locally grown specialty crops, and increase production efficiency through research projects. The types of eligible projects are intentionally open-ended to encourage creative projects.

Previous projects have included the development of a farmers’ market in Wood County, youth garden projects, the creation of a curriculum exploring local foods and their source, and developing a source of queen bees for one of the state’s fastest growing agribusiness enterprises.

WVDA is accepting proposals for a new round of awards. Application deadline is June 22, 2009. Proposal packets with program information and application instructions can be downloaded at http://www.wvagriculture.org. For more information, contact WVDA Marketing Specialists Melissa Hudson at 304-558-2210 or Cindy Martel at 304-541-9756.