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Producers see specific results of Farm Bill
By MICHEL ELBEN
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (May 13, 2014) — Farmers looking for visible, definitive support from the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the Farm Bill) can check out the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which helps enhance the fruit, vegetable and horticultural markets.
Directed by the Agricultural Marketing Service, the grants provide funds for specific goals like research, food safety and community education.
The specialty crop grants are dispersed to the states based on acreage and production value. Nearly all states are seeing an increase in funds.
The funds are reserved for distinctive projects that will strengthen the specialty crop industry’s value.
“Is it innovative? Are you educating people? Is there research that should be done?” asked Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Senior Ag Marketing Specialist Karen Fedor.
Producers can use the grants to increase food safety compliance, increase marketing efforts and develop or advance co-ops.
Funds can also be used to create various post-harvest handling, storage and transportation improvements.
Projects could also develop new and improved varieties; advance production systems or landscaping practices; improve pest, disease and weed control; or promote the crop’s distribution systems, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
“The whole premise is not just to benefit the individual farmer but to benefit the farmer’s whole industry,” said Fedor.
In Maryland, specialty crop production is led by the greenhouse industry. Watermelons, Christmas trees, apples, grapes and honey also fall into the specialty crop category.
Fedor said the program is very valuable to the state because “it shows the economic impact of specific crops.”
Project proposals are due May 29.
In some states, the funds can also help any producer who opts to participate in food safety courses. In cooperation with the University of Maryland, MDA has developed a state Good Ag Practices and Good Handling Practices certification program.
The program provides training and one to one assistance in developing, writing and implementing food safety programs. This assistance is available to any Maryland producer of fruits and vegetables.
“We’ve trained over 500 producers in Maryland,” said Deanna Baldwin, program manager of MDA’s Food Quality Assurance Program.
The program consists of basic food safety requirements and is intended for direct marketers and farmers who have never had a GAP/GHP inspection or audit. Producers that pass the MDA inspection are awarded a certificate.
MDA also conducts audits to determine producers’ compliance with USDA’s GAP and GHP standards. The program is conducted through a cooperative agreement with United States Department of Agriculture and the Agricultural Marketing Service. Conducting the audits through USDA provides national recognition for producers and handlers to the many buyers who now require audits for compliance with the guidelines.
“The new rules in the Food Safety Modernization Act are a big concern,” said Baldwin. “This program is a valuable resource to have.”
The grant money is also used for advertising campaigns, like Maryland’s Best.
“We do a special promotion for a product from April through December,” said Stone Slade, MDA’s ag marketing specialist.
The marketing team runs radio and print ads to feature each month’s seasonal produce. Slade said they are currently gearing up for strawberry season.
Producers can register their farms at Marylandsbest.net to become part of MDA’s expanding marketing network.
Similar programs exist in Delaware and Virginia. Virginia’s deadline was March 21.
In Delaware, more than $336,000 in Farm Bill funding is available for projects to help produce, market or access locally grown fruit, vegetables and certain other crops. The Delaware Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program through June 9.
The state’s funding has increased by more than $100,000 over last year. An informational grant workshop will be held from 4 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, May 14, at the Delaware Department of Agriculture, 2320 South DuPont Highway, Dover.