To enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. specialty crop industry, the state earned almost $850,000 in federally funded grants.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received $477,169 in Specialty Crop 2008 Farm Bill funds and $372,568 for the 2008 Specialty Crop Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Carole Strange, program administrator for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the grants are important for the Florida specialty crop industry.

“There aren’t budgets for programs, and especially for research,” she said. “Things are so tight right now that it helps our producers and organizations remain competitive and do activities that would otherwise not be funded.”

To be eligible to receive funding, the projects had to address such factors as food safety, increased innovation, increased consumption or nutrition. A total of nine grants, ranging from $25,000 to $227,135, were awarded to various entities.

For example, the Florida Tomato Commission earned the largest grant, to help the industry recover from the 2008 salmonella scare. The Florida Blueberry Association also earned a grant to study mechanical harvesting.

“Blueberries are such a fast-growing industry in Florida, but in order to remain competitive, they’re studying mechanical harvesting to try to reduce the labor intensity of that crop,” she said.

For more information, visit the Web site for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at