The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $72.9 million in fiscal 2023 to support production of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops, the agency said last week.
The federal funds under the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program are distributed to state and local departments of agriculture each year to support specialty crop growers through marketing, education and research efforts. They are authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill.
Including this year’s grants, the program has invested more than $1 billion across 12,000 projects to support producers of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery products and floriculture.
Following federal distribution, states are encouraged by USDA to redistribute funding to projects that address the needs of specialty crop producers. These projects can range from food safety and environmental research, to seed variety development and nutritional education efforts for adults and children.
Of the $72.9 million received in fiscal 2023, grant totals varied from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars. California, a major fruit, vegetable and nut producer, received the most funding ($23.9 million), followed by Washington ($4.8 million) and Florida ($3.8 million).
Through the program, California is able to fund 46 projects, including one called 18 Reasons, which provides hands-on cooking education to low-income families affected by food insecurity and nutrition disparities. Other projects include researching pest and disease threats in the citrus industry, identifying ways to increase chili pepper yields amid drought and expanding marketing efforts for other niche fruits and vegetables.
Specialty crops support an estimated 220,000 farms and contribute more than $64 billion to the nation’s economy, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Despite its significant impact, specialty crops remain a fraction of the farm bill each year. The 2018 Farm Bill totaled $428 billion over a five-year period, according to USDA. About 76% of the funds went to nutrition, 9% to crop insurance, 7% to commodities, 7% to conservation and less than 1% to other needs.
The 2018 farm bill reauthorized the specialty crop grant program and provided $85 million per year in mandatory funding.
“This investment will ensure that our specialty crop industry, from producers large and small, remains competitive well into the future," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, who authored the first fruits and vegetables section for a farm bill in 2008.