The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded Florida $850,000 for 2008 specialty crop block grant projects.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is designed to enhance the competitiveness of the U.S. specialty crop industry. 

Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture (including floriculture and turfgrass sod).
Funding is provided to state departments of agriculture from the 2008 Farm Bill through the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.

Each state receives a base grant and a proportionate funding based on the state’s cash receipts for production of specialty crops. Florida ranks second in the nation in specialty crop production.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services received $477,169.00 in Specialty Crop 2008 Farm Bill funds and $372,568.56 for the 2008 Specialty Crop Block Grant.  Total funding received in 2008 was $849,738, according to a news release.

The following projects have received funding:

• Florida A&M University Center for Viticulture - $102,500: This project establishes the Florida Vine Improvement and Distribution Project. The project will cultivate and provide disease-free planting materials to Florida nurseries and grape growers throughout Florida.

Plants will include muscadine grapes and Florida hybrid bunch grapes.  A foundation-certified nursery will be established at the FAMU Center for Viticulture.  FAMU will provide training to nurseries and growers throughout the state to help increase grape acreage and wine production in Florida.  

• Florida Blueberry Growers Association - $160,000: Phase I of the project provides for research to determine if blueberry plants of various cultivars propagated in sterile cultures will have fewer problems and be more resistant to disease.

Phase II of the Project provides additional research funds to identify a type of blueberry which can withstand mechanical harvesting. Mechanical harvest has the ability to significantly increase production efficiency and enhance the competitiveness of Florida Blueberries in both national and international markets.

• Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers Inc. - $66,000: FOG will conduct research to aid in promoting and marketing organic and transitional Florida specialty crops.  FOG will provide education and outreach to promote the purchase and increased consumption of transitional specialty crops as well as certified organic. 

There are more than 100 certified organic growers in Florida and about 14,000 acres currently managed in compliance with USDA National Organic Standards.  FOG will also seek to engage Florida-based and national retailers to promote and purchase both Florida organic and transitional specialty crops.

• Florida Sweet Corn Exchange - $100,318: The Florida Sweet Corn Exchange will conduct a statewide promotional campaign to focus on Florida producers and reinforce the message for Floridians to buy Florida corn.  The program focuses on actual producers and conveys messages from Florida farmers to connect consumers with actual producers. 

The promotion will feature in store displays and messages throughout the state. Corn purchased in state from Florida growers strengthens Florida farms, reduces transportation costs and narrows retails margins. The estimated 2007 cash receipts for farms producing Florida Sweet Corn totaled $113 million dollars, representing approximately 29,500 harvested acres.

• Florida Tomato Committee - $227,135: The Tomato Committee focused on a media consumer education program to counter balance the negative impact of last years Salmonella scare.  The consumer outreach campaign covered 14 major markets for Florida tomatoes. 

The message is to educate consumers that fresh Florida round tomatoes are safe and healthy.  The outreach is essential for Florida tomatoes to return to normal levels of purchase and consumption. The state of Florida annual tomato crop is valued at $500 million to $700 million and supplies 90 percent of the nation’s domestically grown tomatoes during the winter months.

• Florida Tropical Fruit Growers of South Florida Inc. - $68,784: Funds will be used to conduct a marketing initiative to promote Florida tropical fruit to retail markets and the general public. The campaign will include in store demos to educate the public and heighten awareness and consumption of tropical fruit. This will be a one-year promotion. 

Fruits will be showcased in stores during their peak production period. The promotional campaign will inform consumers about the availability of Florida tropical fruits, provide opportunities to taste locally grown product, increase the availability to purchase tropical fruit in retail markets and establish connections with growers for direct sales. The campaign will also promote products made with Florida tropical fruit.

• Florida Watermelon Association - $50,000:  Florida Watermelon Association will conduct a one-year promotional campaign to educate consumers on the nutritional value of Florida watermelon and to teach consumers how to select watermelon.

The activities will focus on providing the general public with information on the health benefits of including watermelon in the diet and highlight the economic benefits of supporting Florida watermelon producers. 

• Produce for Better Health Foundation - $25,000: The project will disseminate information about fruits and vegetables grown in Florida to consumers nationwide via newspaper and television ads. 

This nutritional promotion campaign is part of the national media outreach for “Fruits and Veggies More Matters.”

• Florida Farm Outreach and Conference Partnership - $50,000: The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services  has partnered with Florida A&M University’s College of Agriculture and the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Science to conduct outreach to small farms.  FDACS has provided $25,000 for training sessions to assist small farms. 

The outreach partnership will conduct a series of televised (Polycom) workshops which will focus on increasing small farm participation and product at community farmers markets statewide.  Information will also include: proper food handling techniques, food safety regulations, identifying sales venues and product marketing.

FDACS will also provide $25,000 to help sponsor the first Florida Small Farm Conference to be held at Osceola County’s Heritage Park in Kissimmee, Aug. 1 and 2.  The increased interest among consumers for more local products has resulted in more outreach and interest in small farms.