Specialty crop block grants announced this month by the USDA involve Montana projects that range in scope from educating growers and processors on food safety issues, to broadening options for the state's producers.
A total of $296,702 was awarded to the Montana Department of Agriculture for the projects, which include the following:
Lake County Community Development Food and Agriculture Center and Mission Montana Food Enterprise Center to help specialty crop producers meet national goals and food safety standards.
The Montana Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Food and Agricultural Development Center Network, for training on produce handling practices.
Montana State University's Seed Potato Certification Program to develop a garden seed director for distribution to nurseries.
The USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council to improve market access and develop pulse crops as meal ingredients.
Montana State University Extension to conduct cold-hardy grape variety trials in the western are of the state.
MSU to identify low glycemic index potato cultivars that may be adapted to Montana production as a value-added ingredient.
New products and markets and job creation are among the goals of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service grants, which were created by the 2007 Farm Bill. The grants are designed to help strengthen markets and farm opportunities for specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.
While the department hoped for at least $250,000 for its 2011 program, it was awarded nearly $50,000 more, although the specialty grants have a limited impact for the state's agriculture, says Lee Boyer, bureau chief of the state's Rural Development Bureau."It's been a good program although it has been kind of limited because our specialty crops are limited in the state," he notes. "The program is helping to increase exposure for specialty crops and getting locally-grown fruits and vegetables into the school and university systems."