SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) now is accepting applications for federal specialty crop grants.
Funds for the program come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Farm Bill and are intended to strengthen the competitiveness of the state’s specialty crop industry. The department has not been notified of the exact amount of its award, but anticipates receiving about $600,000.
“Expanding access to nutritious, homegrown Illinois food is one of my top priorities,” Agriculture Director Bob Flider said. “If we could increase local food purchases to just 10 percent of our grocery bill, it would generate more than 20 billion dollars in new economic activity every year, create thousands of jobs in the farming and food industries and revitalize both rural and urban communities.”
The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service defines specialty crops as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture).”
According to a 2010 Illinois Specialty Crop Survey, more than 101,000 acres of Illinois farmland are devoted to growing specialty crops, producing nearly $392 million in annual sales for Illinois farmers. Nationally, Illinois ranks first for its pumpkin production and in the top ten in the production of specialty crops such as asparagus, cauliflower, peas and lima beans.
Proposed projects should accomplish one or more of the following objectives:
• Increase child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops.
• Improve efficiency and reduce costs of distribution systems.
• Assist in developing “Good Agricultural Practices,” “Good Handling Practices,” “Good Manufacturing Practices,” and in cost-share arrangements for funding audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors.
• Invest in specialty crop research, including organic research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes.
• Enhance food safety.
• Develop new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops.
• Improve pest and disease control.
• Promote organic and sustainable production practices.
The IDOA will accept grant proposals until April 15, 2013, at 4 p.m. Request for Proposal packets can be found online at www.agr.state.il.us/Grants/specialtycrops.html or by contacting Delayne Reeves. She can be reached by phone at (217) 524-9129 or by e-mail at email@example.com.