The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) is accepting applications for USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.

Agricultural associations, industry groups, community-based organizations and producer groups that seek to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Virginia are eligible to submit proposals for grants up to $25,000. VDACS will administer a total of $123,500 in funds for the development of Specialty Crop projects. The deadline for returning applications to VDACS is Friday, Oct. 24, 2008.

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.

Processed foods are eligible as long as they enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.

Specialty crops are not considered standard commodities such as corn, wheat or soybeans. A number of crops do not qualify for a specialty crop competitive grant, including cotton, feed crops (corn, hay, oats, barley), flax seed, food grains (rye or wheat), livestock and dairy products, eggs, oil crops (soybeans, sunflower seeds, canola), peanuts, range grasses, sod, tobacco, turf and aquaculture.

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

In determining the use of USDA Specialty Crop Competitive Grant funds, priority will be given, but will not be limited to, the following activities:

• Assisting farmers in transitioning into specialty, high value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops listed above.

• Increasing net farm income for an industry or particular region through high value or value-added enterprises.

• Finding new ways to add value to specialty agricultural products.

• Adopting new ways to market specialty agricultural products.

• Instituting pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.

Applications are available at http://www.vdacs.virginia.gov/marketing/index.shtml and by contacting Melissa Ball via melissa.ball@vdacs.virginia.gov or at 102 Governor Street, Richmond, Va. 23219.