SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program – Farm Bill are available to help the state’s specialty crop industry, Illinois Department is Agriculture (IDOA) Director Tom Jennings announced today. The money can be used for projects designed to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce.
“Demand for fresh fruits and vegetables is on the rise and we need to continue that trend by investing in specialty crops,” Director Jennings said. “These grants will further raise awareness about the abundance of our agricultural production and strengthen Illinois’ specialty crop industry.”
In 2010, Illinois ranked third in the number of farmers markets, with 286 markets that currently operate across the state. That number is up from only 97 in 1999. Nationally, Illinois ranks first in the nation 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.
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.
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.
IDOA will accept proposals until April 15, 2011 at 4 p.m. Application forms and additional information can be found at www.agr.state.il.us or by calling (217) 524-9129.