State agriculture department seeks ideas on specialty crop grant spending

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SALEM, Ohio – The innovation, production and marketing aspects of specialty crops are about to get a boost from a federal government grant.

Ohio’s share of federal appropriations of the $5.5 billion Farm Assistance Bill totaled $1.7 million – $800,000 of which is earmarked for specialty crop grants.

The balance of the amount is divided between emergency food assistance transportation and a $500,000 base grant awarded to each state for general agricultural promotion.

Funds available from the bill passed by Congress Aug. 13 total $169.4 million.

Best use meetings. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is now looking for industry and producer input on how to best spend the one-time specialty crop block grant from the USDA.

A meeting to gather ideas will be held Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. at the state ag department’s Bromfield Administration Building, located at 8995 E. Main St., Reynoldsburg.

“We are eager to solicit ideas from producers as to how these funds can be best used to benefit Ohio’s specialty crop producers,” said Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Dailey.

“We hope groups that could benefit will come learn about this opportunity and share their ideas with us.”

Crop eligibility. Specialty crops are generally thought of as fruits, nuts and vegetables but are specifically defined in the grant language as any agricultural crop except wheat, feed grains, oilseeds, cotton, rice, peanuts and tobacco – crops that benefit from traditional commodity support programs.

Livestock and poultry products are not considered specialty crops.

Allocation. The grant dollar amount allocated to each state was calculated by dividing the 1999 national total cash receipts for vegetables, fruits and nuts by state cash receipts.

Each state was then awarded a percentage of the money made available specifically for specialty crops based on the “proportion of the value of specialty crop production in the state in relation to the national value of specialty crop production,” according to the law.

Ohio’s allocation reflects the 3.3 percent specialty crops occupy in the gross value of the state’s commodities and services produced annually, according to the state ag department.

What’s expected. Industry leaders and state officials will join after the public meeting to discuss ideas and the best use of the grant.

“Every idea producers bring up will be taken into consideration, and the department also has some ideas to present,” said Melanie Wilt, department public information officer.

“We still don’t know quite what to expect from the meeting, but we’re hoping for a lot of good ideas,” she said.

Anyone wishing to get time on the agenda to present their ideas should contact Deb Wilson at the ODA at 614-752-9817 by Dec. 4. Those not on the agenda cannot be guaranteed time to present their ideas, Wilt said.

Keystone plan. Pennsylvania officials are still in the process of working out details regarding the state’s $1.88 million grant, of which $980,000 is tagged for the specialty crop program.

Public meetings are not planned for the state, but officials are aiming to create programs with broad-based benefits, according to Peter Witmer, bureau of market development director.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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