Todd P. Haymore, Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), has announced funding for nine agriculture-related projects which will help open markets for Virginia farm products and promote specialty crops in Virginia.

The projects resulted from the competitive grant process established by the VDACS Division of Marketing for USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorized the USDA to provide funds to the states to promote specialty crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops (including floriculture).

When considering grants for the USDA Specialty Crop Program, VDACS gave priority to projects that included the following activities: assisting farmers in transitioning into specialty, high value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops; increasing net farm income through high-value or value-added enterprises; finding new ways to market or to add value to specialty agricultural products; developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.

VDACS is awarding grants totaling $111,797.84 for these projects:

• Agriculture Cooling, awarded to Kevin Semones, Southwest Virginia Farmers’ Market, Hillsville, Va. — Grant funding will support the purchase of equipment and supplies to cool specialty crops to remove field heat, enhance freshness and lengthen shelf life. The new equipment will allow cooling and estimated sales of $1.5 million for specialty crops including peaches, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and blueberries. This grant will compliment a larger agricultural cooling project.

• A New Generation of Farmers Trained to Grow Berry Crops, awarded to Anne Geyer, Agriberry, LLC, Studley, Va. — In order to re-invigorate local agriculture in the face of aging farmers and urban expansion, the award will facilitate the establishment of a new generation of farmers through the training of young adults utilizing small, viable berry crop sites/farms across the state.

• Introduction of Horticultural Liner Production to Virginia Agricultural Producers, awarded to Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association, Richmond, Va. — To expand Virginia’s role as a leader in the production of nursery stock, grant funds will support the training of interested growers in commercial plant production in which starter plants, known as liners, are purchased from growers in other areas of the country. This project will also address tissue culture propagation, to reflect the need for plant material developed by the Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association’s Beautiful Gardens program.

• Internet Education Program for Improving Pollination Efficiency of the Honey Bee, awarded to VDACS, State Apiary Program, Richmond, Va. — Grant money will fund the development of an interactive Web site to promote the benefits of honey bee pollination and serve as a resource to beekeepers and farmers interested in commercial crop pollination. The site will include management techniques for improving honey bee health and training materials to increase the availability of honey bee pollination.

• Developing Good Agriculture and Handling Practices, awarded to VDACS Fruit and Vegetable Marketing Program, Richmond, Virginia — Many retailers and wholesalers require growers to develop a process to reduce the chances that produce could be contaminated by microbial organisms. The VDACS Fruit and Vegetable Marketing Program will help growers and producers meet the requirements of the Good Agriculture Practices/Good Handling Practices Program via a three-pronged effort which includes educational meetings, development of a workbook and a cost-sharing program to help with the expense of certification.

• Eastern Shore of Virginia Vegetable Pest Monitoring Program, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Northampton County, Exmore, Va. — Providing accurate, reliable and timely pest management information to producers is key to the success of the vegetable industry on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. A grant-funded program will provide producers with information on a weekly basis, through insect, disease and weather monitoring gathered from equipment located throughout Eastern Shore production areas.

• Reducing Costs and Increasing Farm Efficiency for Specialty Crop Producers through Irrigation Systems, awarded to Gary Allensworth, Lois’ Produce, Montross, Va. — Grant money will help fund a pilot project to upgrade the existing irrigation system at a retail and wholesale vegetable farm in Westmoreland County in order to better meet current environmental requirements, conserve water, reduce energy costs, increase productivity, reduce disease pressures and reduce labor costs. The project will serve as a model for other similar farming operations.

• Specialty Crop Research Cost-Share, VDACS, Specialty Agriculture Research Grants Program, Richmond, Va. — To advance value-added, specialty crop production, VDACS will establish a competitive cost-share, matching funds program to support four on-farm projects which promote the commercial adoption of select specialty crops production systems in Virginia. The program will be used to mitigate some of the financial risk of farmers’ adopting specialty crop production programs developed under the VDACS Specialty Agriculture Research Grants Program.

• Greenhouse Tomato and Lettuce Production, awarded to Dana G. Boyle, Garner’s Produce, Warsaw, Va. — Using an economical, environmentally friendly heating system in a controlled greenhouse environment, the producer intends to demonstrate the feasibility of both diversifying product and extending the production season. The objective is to encourage other area producers to adopt this production method so consumers can have a larger window of opportunity to purchase fresh and local products.

VDACS Commissioner Todd P. Haymore commented, “I congratulate these individuals and organizations which met significant challenges with creative programs and projects to extend the success and profitability of specialty crops in Virginia. Their winning ideas will help growers add value and enhance market opportunities across the Commonwealth.”