ODA: $2M in Specialty Crop block grants

Specialty crop block grants boost Oregon agricultureBy Oregon Department of Agriculture,

The Oregon Department of Agriculture and US Department of Agriculture have announced this year’s recipients of Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funds. In Oregon, nearly $2 million will fund 29 projects to help boost the competitiveness of the state’s fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, nursery crops, and other specialty crops. This marks the highest number of projects ever funded under the program and highest total amount of funding allocated to Oregon by USDA.

Since the majority of Oregon’s agricultural production comes from specialty crops, the increased allocation and ability to fund more projects comes as great news.

“These projects go a long way in positioning Oregon’s agricultural producers to compete and succeed in the marketplace,” says ODA Director Katy Coba. “This year’s projects strike a nice balance between local and international marketing while addressing food safety concerns and the need for next generation farmers. I’m excited to see these projects unfold.”

As always the case for Oregon, the 2014 funded projects involve a diversity of crops and span a wide geographic area of the state’s agricultural production. This year’s projects range from Oregon potato promotions in Vietnam to giving a boost to the Pacific Northwest cider industry. Other projects of note include an Oregon Museum of Science and Industry education campaign; transitioning interested specialty crop growers into organic production; and improving food safety of Oregon hazelnuts.

Oregon ranks sixth in the nation in production of specialty crops.

Over the past seven years, Oregon has received more than $9 million in funding from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which has paved the way for 163 projects throughout the state and supporting the following priorities:

· Market development and access (international markets, local/regional/domestic markets, certifications)

· Food safety compliance and traceability

· Efficiency of distribution systems

· Prevention and management of pests and diseases

· Training and equipping the next generation

· On-farm labor needs

· Productivity enhancements and innovation

For a state like Oregon, with more than 225 crops grown on nearly 36,000 farms, specialty crop funding through the US Farm Bill is critical.

“It helps to fund international marketing campaigns for our fruits, vegetables, nursery crops, and Christmas trees while also funding local marketing and food safety initiatives,” says Shannon Brubaker, ODA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program coordinator. “Funding also helps address pest and disease-related concerns, rural economic development, and the next generation of agricultural producers in Oregon.”

Several projects aim to enhance Oregon’s status overseas. The Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission received a $71,970 grant to host a series of seminars in Hong Kong promoting the use of berries as ingredients in the fast-growing Chinese baking industry. The Oregon Potato Commission received $35,000 to continue to grow the market for fresh Oregon potatoes in Vietnam. A $75,116 project to develop a systems approach and marketing strategy for Oregon Christmas tree exports could help mitigate pest risks and open additional markets that extend to ornamental greens.

Other projects focus on local markets. Oregon State University’s Small Farms Program will use a $56,055 grant to fund Phase III of the successful Growing Entrepreneurs program in partnership with Rogue Farm Corps with the goal of training the next generation of Oregon’s farmers. With organic produce buyers reporting large supply gaps for many crops that could be met by Oregon growers, Oregon Tilth will use a $33,831 grant to help transition interested existing growers into organic production.

Food safety projects are also recipients of funding this year. OSU received a $98,570 grant to conduct field trials to examine risk of microbial contamination from irrigation water applied to onions in Eastern Oregon– a major issue surrounding proposed rules as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act. Increasing food regulations are prompting Oregon’s hazelnut industry to come up with processing methods that effectively reduce Salmonella on in-shell hazelnuts and kernels. A $56,761 grant to OSU will determine if propylene oxide treatments will inactivate the food pathogen.

Other awards include a $74,009 grant to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) for a “farm to science” project to educate kids and adults about the state’s specialty crops– including a display that shows how they are grown and what they taste like. The Northwest Cider Association received $50,000 to create production standards for the rapidly growing cider industry with the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District also receiving $50,000 to support expansion for Columbia Gorge cider makers. OSU received $80,228 to find value-added uses for fruit and wine grape pomace– the seeds, stems, and skins left over once the juice is crushed out. The goal is to develop pomace as a healthy food ingredient and fiber source. OSU’s Department of Botany and Plant Pathology received $83,165 to conduct interactive workshops aimed at connecting growers of native plants with gardeners and landscape professionals.

Many other interesting and important projects will come to life following this year’s round of funding.

Link to all funded projects

For more information, contact Shannon Brubaker at (503) 872-6617.

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