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            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 $30,000 per project. Although individual producers are not eligible, they may join with groups and organizations to apply for these grants. VDACS will administer nearly $500,000 in funds for the development of Specialty Crop projects.


The deadline for returning applications to VDACS is noon April 2, 2012. 


            Specialty crops are categorized as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops, including floriculture, that are not typically covered by traditional crop insurance. Specialty crops do not include 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), livestock and dairy products, eggs, oil crops (soybeans, canola), peanuts, tobacco or aquaculture. Processed foods are eligible as long as they enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.  


“These specialty crop grants have proved to be a real boon for Virginia’s specialty crop producers over the past several years,” said VDACS Commissioner Matthew J. Lohr. “It encourages them to be innovative, and that often leads to new sources of revenue. That in turn can create jobs in the community and help keep our valuable farmland in production. I support any and all ways we can enhance the competitiveness of Virginia’s many specialty crops.” Lohr adds that Virginia is not a one crop state, and enhancing these specialty crops is one way to strengthen agriculture as a whole to ensure that it maintains its place as the state’s number one industry.


            Specialty Crop Competitive 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:

·         increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops

·         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; pest and disease control;

·         developing organic and sustainable production practices

·         increasing the competitiveness of specialty crop farmers


            Guidelines, instructions and the application for the USDA Specialty Crop Competitive Grants are available online at (click on Application Form to apply), via e-mail to, or at VDACS, 102 Governor Street, Richmond, VA  23219.