Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has announced that Virginia agricultural associations, industry groups, community-based organizations, and producer groups may apply for an estimated $500,000 in Specialty Crop Block Grants from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) will administer the grant funds for the development of specialty crop projects. The deadline for returning applications to VDACS is 5 p.m. April 16, 2010.

VDACS administers the grant program to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Virginia, encourage economic development in Virginia's farm economy, and support the creation of agricultural jobs related to specialty crop production in the Commonwealth.

Industry groups are eligible to submit proposals for grants up to $30,000 per project. Although individual producers are not eligible, they may join with groups and organizations to apply for these grant funds. Speaking about the announcement, Governor McDonnell noted, "This is good news for Virginia's agricultural producers. During my campaign for Governor I talked about the need to promote Virginia agriculture around the world. The specialty crop program can be utilized to spur job creation and agribusiness development in rural Virginia. I am confident that several of our producer groups will be able to develop projects that qualify for these grants that will not only enhance the delivery of special crop products, but also will help revitalize our rural economy."

Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd P. Haymore noted, "I encourage producer groups to take advantage of the opportunity these grants present to enhance the competitiveness of Virginia's many specialty crops and boost farm income. These grants will help keep agriculture as the top industry in Virginia, a diverse industry that generates more than $55 billion in revenue annually and provides more than 350,000 jobs around the Commonwealth."

Specialty crops are categorized as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops, including floriculture, and are not typically covered by traditional crop insurance. Specialty crops do not include standard commodities such as corn, wheat or soybeans. Processed foods may be eligible as long as they enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.


Specialty Crop Block Grant proposals need to be specific and explain how an association, industry group or organization will use the funds to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. Some examples include research, promotion and marketing plans, as well as food safety projects.

In awarding the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant funds, VDACS will give priority to projects with the sole purpose of enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops as they pertain to the following issues:

• Improving efficiency and reducing costs of distribution systems.

• Assisting all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain in developing Good Agricultural Practices, Good Handling Practices and Good Manufacturing Practices.

• Investing in specialty crop research, including organic research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes.

• Enhancing food safety.

• Developing new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops that are pest and disease resistant.

• Developing organic and sustainable production practices.

• Increasing the competitiveness of specialty crop farmers.

• Increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops.

Guidelines, instructions and the application for the USDA Specialty Crop Competitive Grants are available online at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing/pdf/cropgrant.doc. Interested applicants also may e-mail melissa.ball@vdacs.virginia.gov, or pick up a copy at 102 Governor Street, Richmond, Va., 23219.