Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Elanor Starmer announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding $2.6 million in competitive grants to help develop solutions to problems affecting the specialty crop industry across state boundaries. AMS is awarding the funds to four projects under the new Specialty Crop Multi-State Program, which was created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

"Building partnerships across state lines will strengthen the specialty crop sector and sustain the livelihoods of American farmers in rural communities," said Starmer. "With over 140,000 specialty crop farms across the country, the Specialty Crop Multi-State Program grants encourage the type of collaboration that is needed to implement strong food safety strategies, increase access to healthy foods, and improve profitability and sustainability on the farm."

Administered by AMS, the Specialty Crop Multi-State Program is designed to support food safety and research; address plant pests, diseases, and crop-specific issues; and increase marketing opportunities for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

USDA is funding the following projects under SCMP:

  • Arkansas Agriculture Department is partnering with the University of Arkansas and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service for a multi-state project to evaluate field resistance to downy mildew in spinach, including breeding new spinach cultivars with downy mildew resistance;
  • New York Department of Agriculture and Markets has joined Cornell University and Virginia Tech - Eastern Shore to complete a field study in produce packing houses and processing facilities to develop, implement, and evaluate produce-specific monitoring and control programs targeting Listeria and resulting in safer food;
  • Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has partnered with Clemson University, Michigan State University, University of Georgia and the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension to evaluate short and long-term solutions for Armillaria Root Rot affecting forest and fruit tree crops;
  • Washington State Department of Agriculture is working with LINC Foods (Wash.); Lake County Community Development Corp. Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center (Mont.); Farm Commons (Minn.); and Rural Roots (Idaho) to increase the competitiveness and sales of specialty crops in the eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and Western Montana region through Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) education and resources, resulting in safer food for consumers.

Specialty Crop Multi-State Program projects involves at least two partners located in different states. Partners include state agencies, Tribal governments, universities, non-profits, and other specialty crop organizations.

A complete list of crops plants commonly considered as specialty crops and a definition of specialty crops is available at the AMS website.

Projects funded in New York and Washington are the latest USDA investments to help America’s farmers comply with FSMA. Since passage of FSMA in 2011, USDA has dedicated $6 million toward implementation and research efforts and to help America’s fruit, vegetable and grain growers comply with stronger food safety standards across the board. Throughout July, at the height of summer grilling season, USDA will be highlighting changes made to the U.S. food safety system over the course of the Obama Administration, introducing Americans to the men and women who are enacting them, and demonstrating the positive impacts for public health. On July 5, USDA published Chapter Seven: Safer Food and Greater Consumer Confidence to its year-long USDA Results project on Medium.com. The latest chapter includes audio testimony from USDA food safety stakeholders, information about scientific breakthroughs such as a process to remove allergens from peanuts, and more.