The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has announced funding for 19 agriculture-related projects that will promote and enhance the competitiveness of Virginia’s specialty crops. The projects resulted from the competitive grant process established by VDACS for USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.
Crops such as tomatoes, wine grapes, Christmas trees, fruit, cider, chick peas, fresh greens, strawberries and Brussels sprouts all strive to benefit from these grant awards. Other grants focus on food safety, reducing soil and nutrient loss, providing fresh local produce to schools and restaurants, connecting rural producers with urban buyers and more. Grants ranged from $9,000 to $30,000 per organization.
“These grants represent nearly a half-million dollar investment in Virginia’s economy that will boost economic development and create agribusiness jobs in the state,” said Matthew J. Lohr, VDACS Commissioner. “Each year I am amazed at the innovative projects that receive grants, and this year is no exception. I congratulate these individuals, educational institutions and organizations for pursuing concepts that will help growers add value and enhance marketing opportunities across Virginia.”
The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorized the USDA to provide funds to the states to promote specialty crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops. When considering grants for the USDA Specialty Crop Program, VDACS gave priority to projects that included the following activities: assisting farmers in transitioning into specialty, high-value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops; increasing net farm income through high-value or value-added enterprises; finding new ways to market or to add value to specialty agricultural products; and developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.
VDACS is awarding grants totaling $451,981.48 for the following projects, which are listed in no particular order:
•Developing Research-based Resources on Hard Cider Apples for Virginia’s Commercial Orchards and Cider Makers, Gregory Peck, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Agricultural and Research Extension Center (AREC), Winchester
•Commonwealth Quality Alliance Marketing, Laurie P. Aldrich, Virginia Wineries Association, Richmond
•Kevin C. Semones, Primus Training and Consultations, Southwest Virginia Farmers’ Market, Hillsville (PrimusLabs is the most requested certification being sought by major produce retailers today)
•Assisting Virginia Farmers to Access Quality Markets through USDA GAP and Harmonized GAP Training, Assistance and Certification; Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon
•Exploring Brussels Sprouts as a Profitable Crop for Southwest Virginia Farmers, Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon
•Enhancing Food Safety of Virginia Grown Tomatoes, Steve Rideout, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University AREC, Painter
•Advancing Virginia’s Strawberry Production and Industry, Gail Moody Milteer, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Franklin
•Collective Purchasing Program, Laurie P. Aldrich, Virginia Wineries Association, Richmond
•Edible Landscape Demonstration Gardens in Virginia, Alexander Xavier Niemiera, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg
•Developing Soil Solarization and Microwaves for Pest Management in Annual Plasticulture Strawberry Production, Jeffrey Derr,Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Hampton Roads AREC, Virginia Beach
•Cover Crop Evaluation for Weed Suppression, Erosion Control and Nutrient Management in Newly Planted Vineyards, Jeffrey Derr,Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Hampton Roads AREC, Virginia Beach
•Increasing the Competitiveness of Virginia Christmas Tree Growers, Jeffery B. Miller, Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, Christiansburg
•Building a Bridge between Farmers and Food Industry: Setting Standard Criteria for Chickpea Physicochemical and Functional Properties for Hummus Preparation, Yixiang Xu, Virginia State University Agriculture Research Station, Petersburg
•Phase II, Commercial Green Production in Underused Industrial Sites, Jeffery Fields, Patrick Henry Community College, Martinsville
•Assisting Growers to Meet New Demands for Food Safety, GAP Certification and Best Practices in Wholesale Crop Production, Kristen Suokko, Local Food Hub, Inc., Charlottesville
•Regional Farm Tours of Sustainable Farms, Janet Aardema, Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Lexington
•Evaluating High Tunnel Strawberry Production in a Substrate System, R. Allen Straw, Virginia Pumpkin Growers Association, Hillsville
•Improving Strawberry Production Through the Use of Native Bees, Lisa Horth, Old Dominion University Research Foundation, Norfolk
•Virginia Urban Agriculture Summit, Leslie Hoglund, Lynchburg Health Department, Lynchburg
For more information on specialty crops in Virginia, contact VDACS’ Division of Marketing at 804.786.3530.