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The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is now accepting proposals for federal specialty crop grants.  The agency anticipates Illinois will receive roughly $525,000 from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to distribute to state projects; however, the exact dollar amount has yet to be determined.  The funds will come from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program in the Farm Bill.  They are available for projects beginning in calendar year 2018, and are intended to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce and strengthen the competitiveness of our specialty crop industry.

According to USDA, projects seeking funding should benefit underserved communities and veterans, aim to improve producer capacity with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act, develop adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers in drought-stricken regions, increase opportunities for new and beginning farmers, develop strong local and regional food systems, protect pollinator habitats and improve pollinator health.

Projects that benefit a particular commercial product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution or individual are ineligible.  Farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community-sponsored agriculture programs should consider submitting proposals to the USDA’s Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program.

“Over the years this grant program has become highly competitive with the number of applications growing each year,” said Director Raymond Poe.  “That is a testament to Illinois’ agriculture community.  These projects have identified needs in our communities, and are encouraging more and more people to participate in agriculture and healthy lifestyles.”

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service defines specialty crops as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture).”

Illinois is the nation’s leading producer of pumpkins and horseradish, and ranks in the top ten in acreage of cantaloupes, green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn. Illinois also is home to a flourishing grape and wine market.  Sales of all specialty crops in Illinois, including nursery and greenhouse sales, totaled almost $470 million in 2012.

The IDOA will accept grant proposals until April 28, 2017, at 4pm.  Request for proposal packets and additional information about the program can be found online at the department’s website at  For more information call (217) 524-9129.