The USDA Friday announced more than $90 million in competitive grants are available to help strengthen local and regional food systems, develop new market opportunities for producers, and support farmers growing fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, flowers and nursery crops, according to a news release.
The grants are administered by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service include the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program.
More than $62 million is allocated in grants to states and territories through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for projects supporting specialty crop growers through research and programs to increase demand.
Since 2009, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has supported growers by providing nearly $393 million for more than 5,400 projects.
The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program provides more than $26 million in competitive grants divided equally between the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program.
FMPP grants support direct producer-to-consumer marketing projects such as farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, roadside stands and agri-tourism.
LFPP funds support projects that develop, improve and expand local and regional food business intermediary supply chain activities, including processing, distribution, aggregation and storage of locally or regionally produced food products.
The Federal State Marketing Improvement Program provides nearly $1 million in matching funds to state departments of agriculture, state colleges and universities, and other appropriate state agencies for research projects that address challenges and opportunities in marketing, transporting, and distributing U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally.
USDA data show specialty crop sales exceed $83 billion per year.
USDA's investments in farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer local food marketing activities through FMPP have provided $60 million in assistance for more than 900 projects nationwide since 2009. LFPP has funded more than 350 projects totaling nearly $25 million since it launched in 2014.
"Over the past seven years, USDA has strengthened local and regional food systems by investing in projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities for small businesses and increase access to healthy foods," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. "These grant programs make a real difference to farmers, ranchers, and businesses in communities across the country, revitalizing rural economies while also increasing access to fresh, healthy food."
Interested applicants should apply directly through their state departments of agriculture, which administer a competitive grant process. A listing of the SCBGP's state contacts, and how to apply with state application due dates, can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/scbgp
State departments of agriculture must submit their applications to AMS by July 6, 2016.
Grant applications must be submitted electronically through www.Grants.gov
Applicants are encouraged to start the registration process as soon as possible to ensure that they meet the deadline of 11:59 p.m. eastern time on May 12, 2016.
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