SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Federal grant funds are available to help Illinois specialty crop growers. The Illinois Department of Agriculture today announced it will receive up to $435,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for programs next year that improve the competitiveness of their industry.
The department intends to use the funds to award “mini-grants” that expand markets for fresh produce grown in Illinois. Advertising-related expenses are eligible for assistance, as long as program requirements are met.
“Every year, more consumers are shopping local farmers markets for fresh fruits and vegetables,” Agriculture Director Tom Jennings said. “These grants will further raise awareness about the abundance of our agricultural production and strengthen our specialty crop industry.”
Proposed projects should accomplish one or more of the following industry objectives:
• Increase child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops;
• Ensure industry participation at meetings of international standard-setting bodies in which the U.S. government participates;
• Improve efficiency and reduce costs of distribution systems;
• Assist all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain 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; and
• Augment sustainability.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture will accept grant applications until Monday, Aug. 3, at 4 p.m. Funds will be awarded early next year. Application forms and instructions can be obtained on the department’s website at www.agr.state.il.us or by calling (217) 524-9129.
The number of farmers markets in Illinois has nearly tripled, increasing from 97 in 1999 to more than 275 today.
According to a 2003 Illinois Specialty Crop Survey, more than 117,000 acres of farmland is devoted to growing specialty crops, producing nearly $137 million in sales for Illinois farmers. Nationally, Illinois ranks first for its pumpkin production, and in the top ten in the production of many other specialty crops, such as asparagus, cauliflower, peas and lima beans.