The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to distribute $55 million in 2011 under the Specialty Crop Block Grant program.

On Dec. 16, an official with the program’s fruit and vegetable division gave an online presentation outlining how growers, marketers and other industry members can benefit from the program.

Trista Etzig, a project manager with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, was the guest speaker at the Web seminar, titled “Grant Opportunities: Enhancing the Competitiveness of Specialty Crops.”

The seminar, heard by more than 300 people, was hosted by Red Book Credit Services, a division of Lincolnshire, Ill.-based Vance Publishing Corp., publisher of The Packer.

The $55 million in grants expected for 2011 would be the same amount distributed in 2010, Etzig said.

Since the program was founded in 2004, $130 million has been distributed to fund more than 2,700 projects aimed at increasing the competitiveness of specialty crops.

In 2010, 38% of the grant money went to projects involving marketing and promotions; 18% to education efforts; 13% to research; 10% to production-related projects; and 4% for food safety efforts.

Grants start at $100,000 and increase based on individual states’ allocations of resources, Etzig said. The block grants are administered through state departments of agriculture.

The Dec. 16 presentation, state contact information, project proposal documents and more information are available at www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp.