Fed grants available again for agribusiness crop programs

March 29, 2010
| By Pete Daly |
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Nonprofit entities involved in some sectors of Michigan agribusiness have until April 22 to apply for special project funding from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ag Marketing Services.

Administered in Michigan by the state Department of Agriculture, the program is intended to “enhance the competitiveness” of Michigan's “specialty crops,” defined generally as fruits, vegetables and flowers, but also including tree nuts, culinary herbs and spices, medicinal herbs and nursery stock.

According to an announcement from the MDA, the grants, ranging from $10,000 to $75,000, can be used for research, promotion, marketing, nutrition research, trade enhancement, food safety, food security, plant health programs, education, increased knowledge and consumption, increased innovation, improved efficiency and reduced costs of distribution systems, environmental concerns and conservation, product development, good agricultural practices, good handling practices, and good manufacturing practices.

Grants cannot be made to individual companies, however.

“It’s got to be to organizations that benefit the industry as a whole,” said Mike DiBernardo, administrator of the program at the MDA.

Eligible applicants can include both nonprofit and for-profit organizations; local, state and federal government entities; and universities. The organizations must be legal entities recognized by the IRS, and applicants must reside and/or conduct their business or organization in Michigan.

This is the second year for the federally funded Specialty Crop Block Grants in Michigan; DiBernardo said last year more than a million dollars in grants were made in the state.

Organizations getting grants last year included the Michigan Vegetable Council and Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association, the MSU Agricultural Experiment Stations, plus associations representing growers of asparagus, fruit, Christmas trees, potatoes, beans and even the Michigan Wine Foundation.

Agricultural tourism got a boost through a $64,000 grant to the West Michigan Tourist Association, which plowed it into various marketing programs including 40 billboards throughout the state that direct people to the WMTA Web site (wmta.org), which features an “agri-tourism” section. The organization’s 2010 West Michigan Carefree Travel Guide lists farm markets, u-pick farms, wineries and related ventures that mix tourism with agriculture, such as the Coopersville Farm Museum.

DiBernardo said two big grants last year were to the Michigan Integrated Food Farming Systems and to the Michigan Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Association. MIFFS provided training on good agricultural practices to the fruit and vegetable industry, according to the USDA Web site, while MACMA invested its grant in an educational meeting for growers on good agricultural practices and issues related to farm worker health and hygiene.

MIFFS is a statewide nonprofit housed at Michigan State University with the purpose of improving Michigan's economy, environment and communities through sustainable agriculture initiatives. The organization helps farmers sustain their farming operations; grows market opportunities for farmers; supports agricultural stewardship and sustainable production; and tries to influence public policy and institutional decisions that impact family farms.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant-Farm Bill funds are intended to benefit the specialty crop industry as a whole, and will not be awarded for projects that directly benefit a particular commercial product or provide profit to a single organization, institution, or individual. Proposals from multi-state organizations are permitted.

The MDA is now soliciting RFPs for grants. For more information, contact the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

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