ODA awards $1.49 in specialty crop grants

By Oregon Department of Agriculture

Oregon agriculture continues to benefit from federal funding aimed at boosting the competitiveness of the state’s fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery crops, and other specialty crops. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has announced this year’s recipients of more than $1.49 million as part of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

In all, 22 projects are being funded, reaching a broad geographic swath of Oregon and a variety of specialty crops.

Over the past five years of the just expired US Farm Bill, Oregon has received more than $6 million in funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which has paved the way for 112 projects throughout the state.

“A majority of Oregon’s agricultural production comes from specialty crops, so this is truly an important federal program that has a direct, positive impact on our growers,” says ODA Director Katy Coba. “The program is a reminder of the need for Congress to pass the new Farm Bill so that Oregon and other states can count on future projects that keep our specialty crops competitive.”

As one of the nation’s leading producers of specialty crops, Oregon is vitally interested in continued funding of the program. On a national scope, the stakes are equally high. This week, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $55 million in grants across all 50 states and four US territories– enough to fund 749 projects.

“By investing in projects that stimulate growth and development for specialty crop growers of all sizes, we’re helping American farmers establish a marketplace for new businesses opportunities in each region of the country,” says Vilsack. “These investments will support local and regional markets, and improve access to healthy food for millions of children and supply thousands of farmers markets, restaurants and other businesses with fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables. The grants also help growers solve technology needs or make better informed decisions on profitability and sustainability, leading to stronger rural American communities and businesses.”

Like all other states, Oregon’s allocation for 2012 is slightly lower than last year’s block grant of $1.7 million. Nonetheless, there was no shortage of great applications and, in the end, worthy projects. ODA received 53 concept proposals and worked with an advisory board to ultimately provide Director Coba with a list of recommendations for funding. The list was submitted to USDA for final approval, which came this week.

“We are excited to announce our 22 projects,” says Katie Pearmine, ODA’s Specialty Crop Grant Program Coordinator. “For a state like Oregon, where we grow more than 200 crops on about 37,000 farms, this program has been critical.”

This year’s projects generally aim to promote some of Oregon’s key specialty crop industries, develop new markets at home and abroad, address distribution bottlenecks, train the next generation of farmers, and strengthen food safety.

“Specialty crops are the foundation of our rural economies,” says Pearmine. “As the farmer, processor, and retailer thrive in the same region of the state, it creates more opportunity for local jobs, connects those who grow the food with those who buy it, and makes agriculture a viable career option for future generations.”

Geographically, this year’s projects appear to be the most diverse with projects in eastern, central, and southern Oregon to go along with the Willamette Valley. Both urban and rural communities are represented.

“We’re reaching more markets than ever, including our export markets in Asia and the direct markets here in our local communities,” says Pearmine. “In this way, the Specialty Crop Grant Program really mirrors the diverse agricultural portfolio that we have here in Oregon.”

Pearmine has noticed some trends over the past few years in the types of projects being funded.

“Of course, we’ve seen interest in Asian markets. So there is a lot of exporting going on, particularly with our berries but also with our hazelnuts and wine. On the Oregon front, we see a lot of work on helping beginning farmers and bringing the next generation of farmer along.”

The 2012 projects address key components of Oregon agriculture. In the area of innovation, Cascade Pacific Resource Conservation and Development, located in the southern Willamette Valley, has been awarded $60,000 to develop a truffle production industry in Oregon, which carries a reputation as a “North American Capital” of the highly prized mushroom and is just one of three places in the world with its own native truffles.

There are also projects that support promotional programs for some of Oregon’s key industries. The Oregon Essential Oil Growers League has been awarded $16,500 to develop an Oregon mint grant that creates awareness of the high quality mint grown in the state. The Oregon Hop Commission has been awarded $46,958 to promote Oregon public hop varieties to Oregon craft brewers. Klamath Basin Fresh Organics has been awarded $90,000 for promotional efforts aimed at continued market growth of fresh organic specialty potatoes.

Food safety projects include a $42,000 award to the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission to expand berry grower food safety training and a $90,000 award to Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center to strengthen food safety management systems for specialty crop production.

Other projects range from farm to school efforts– including an award of $23,630 to the North Powder Charter School– to developing an effective distribution model that can link specialty crop growers to wholesale food buyers. (Ecotrust has been awarded $57,710 for such a project.)

For Oregon, the best trend would be continued funding of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

2012 project profiles

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