U.S.: Vilsack extends specialty crop funding

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U.S.: Vilsack extends specialty crop funding

The United States Department of Agriculture has announced that it will provide US$52 million in funding to extend the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP).oranges_tree ffp

The announcement made Tuesday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack momentarily eases defunding fears, as debate continues over the overarching Farm Bill.

The block grant will fund 54 sub-grants across U.S. states and territories and support 694 initiatives covering fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, nursery crops and floriculture.

With the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, time is running out to reapprove the full bill by the deadline. Under the pressure of heated budgetary debate in Congress and the possibility of a government shutdown, the likelihood of concluding the farm bill vote looked slim.

The U.S. Senate moved to approve the bill on June 10 but the legislation failed to move forward in the House of Representatives.

With Vilsack's announcement, the SCBGP grant will extend funding to agricultural research, improved efficiency in distribution programs, development of good agricultural practices, enhanced food safety, pest control, and development of new seed and crop varieties.

"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," Vilsack said.

"These grants also help growers make food safety enhancements, solve research needs, and make better informed decisions to increase profitability and sustainability."

Major allocations from the grant provide US$8.5 million toward sustainable agricultural practices, US$14.3 million to support local and regional food systems, US$4.3 million for food safety initiatives and US$3.4 million to help new and beginning farmers.

California will be a significant beneficiary of the grants, receiving US$18 million of the funding. The California Department of Food and Agriculture expressed gratitude for the support of a wide range of agricultural programs, including market development for specialty crop producers, support of agritourism organizations, development of irrigation systems, and benefits for food safety and training.

"This program, which is made possible by the Farm Bill, provides investment in California agriculture at a time when there are tremendous opportunities to meet the demands of local and international markets for new products, while continually improving our food safety and environmental stewardship practices," CDFA secretary Karen Ross said.

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