USDA Tuesday announced plans to invest $52 million in grants to support specialty crop producers through the 2013 Specialty Crop Block Grant program.
The funding will provide 54 block grants to states supporting nearly 700 initiatives. Crops assisted by the grants include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops like floriculture.
In the announcement, USDA said the program supports initiatives that increase specialty crop consumption, improve distribution systems, promote the development of small farms, packers and processors, enhance food safety, control pests and diseases, and establish local food systems.
The goal of the grant program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and Guam received grants this year.
"These investments will strengthen rural American communities by supporting local and regional markets and improving access to fresh, high quality fruits and vegetables for millions of Americans," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in an agency statement.
"These grants also help growers make food safety enhancements, solve research needs, and make better informed decisions to increase profitability and sustainability."
Since 2006, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which is administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service, has awarded over $293 million. The program is part of USDA's integrated approach to programs and policies that stimulate food- and agriculturally-based community economic development.
Key focus areas for the grants include: new and beginning farmers; child and adult nutrition; good agricultural practices and good handling practices; food safety initiatives; local and regional food systems; and sustainable agricultural practices.