The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking applications for $55 million in grants to improve the competitiveness of U.S. specialty crops.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program was funded at $55 million per year by the 2008 farm bill.

The Jan. 4 Federal Register announcement from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service invites state agricultural departments to apply for the funds, with a deadline for applications of July 13.

More information about the process is available by contacting AMS official Trista Etzing by phone at (202) 690-4942 and by e-mail at trista.etzig@usda.gov.

Under the law, specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops.

Organizations interested in participating in this program should contact their respective state department of agriculture, according to the Federal Register notice.