This week, the Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is taking applications for the Florida Specialty Crop Block Grant program thanks to $4 million from the federal government.
The grant, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be awarded to nonprofits, producers, academic institutions, government agencies and others to fund projects that will enhance the competitiveness of Florida’s specialty crops, which include fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops.
The 2019 Florida Specialty Crop Block Grant Program will accept applications for projects pertaining to the following issues:
- Increased child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops.
- Improved efficiency and reduction of costs of distribution systems.
- Assistance for all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain in developing “Good Agricultural Practices,” “Good Handling Practices,” “Good Manufacturing Practices” and cost-share arrangements for funding audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors.
- Investment in specialty crop research, including research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes.
- Increased food safety.
- Development of new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops.
- Pest and disease control.
- Development of organic and sustainable production practices.
The following have been identified as funding priorities for the 2019 Florida Specialty Crop Block Grant Program:
- Projects with immediate benefit to the public or agriculture industry.
- Projects that expand child and adult knowledge of nutritional benefits, improve access and increase consumption for Florida specialty crops.
- Projects that increase sales and marketability and drive demand for commercially-grown specialty crops.
- Projects to bolster local food systems, such as “buy local produce” programs for schools, prisons, hospitals, restaurants, businesses and others, as well as increased specialty crop sales for community supported agriculture organizations.
- Projects to help specialty crop growers reduce the financial cost or environmental impact of their operations, including improved pest and disease management techniques, efficient water management, integrated pest management, organic or sustainable production, native plant horticulture, protected agriculture and others.
Major considerations also include the overall economic benefit to the Florida specialty crop industry and whether the project makes good business sense, has a high likelihood of success and the expected benefits align with the proposed budget.
The department and an external review committee that is representative of Florida’s specialty crop industry will review grant applications. Pending USDA approval, funded projects are anticipated to begin by January 2020.
The deadline to submit an application to the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is Jan. 11, 2019.