May 2, 2024
Bill would boost USDA block grants for specialty crops

U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Laphonza Butler (D-California) have introduced a bill to increase the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant program authorization and give stakeholders more say on what to do with the funds at the state level.

The Specialty Crops Security Act increases the authorization for the grant program from $85 million to $100 million a year, and gives specialty crop stakeholders more opportunities to give input on how state departments of agriculture should use the funds.

Susan Collins
Susan Collins

“This increase in the authorization for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program will strengthen Maine’s agricultural sector by providing additional support for the development of more resilient fruits and vegetables, while boosting farmers’ sales through increased marketing,” Collins said in a news release.

“California’s farmers produce nearly half of the country’s specialty crops and they deserve a seat at the table when state departments of agriculture make decisions about how to allocate funding that directly impacts them,” said Senator Butler.

Senator Angus King, (Ind.-Maine) a co-sponsor of the legislation, said it will help save and revitalize farms.

Laphonza Butler
Laphonza Butler

“As the agricultural industry faces new challenges every day, we must level the playing field by providing needed resources and support — and a voice — to our American businesses,” King said in the release.

Eric Venturini, executive director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine; Jeannie Tapley, assistant executive director of the Maine Potato Board; Ted McKinney, CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture; and the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA) also released statements of support.

“Over its 20-year life, the Specialty Crop Block Grant program has enhanced the competitiveness of specialty crop growers across the country,” according to the SCFBA statement. “Its track record of success, tailored by each state’s unique priorities, merits increased investment from the federal government.”

The grant program was first funded in 2006 and quickly became one of the most important programs enabling state departments of agriculture to support their specialty crop industries, according to Collins. The program is designed to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and funds activities that accomplish a broad range of outcomes, including:

  • Increased access to and consumption of specialty crops
  • Research supporting the resilience of specialty crops
  • More robust regional and local food systems
  • Food safety improvements

Other co-sponsors of the Specialty Crops Security Act are Senators Alex Padilla (D-California), Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico), Ben Luján (D-New Mexico), Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), and Peter Welch (D-Vermont).


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