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specialty crop block grants

Finding Success with Next Generation Farmers

Not everyone goes to work every day knowing that they will be inspired by the people they meet—I’m very fortunate in that way.  From the federal agencies that I oversee to the farmers and ranchers I visit with, I am truly inspired by their dedication to serving the American people and their commitment to the success of rural America.  And many of the issues that they work on or face in their daily lives are the same issues that we are all concerned with—sustainability and conservation, short-term and long-term stability, and making sure our children and the next generation have paths to success.

During a recent visit to the Texas Panhandle, I stopped to have breakfast and visit with the father and son team who run the Chavez family farm.  Carlos and Greg Chavez farm 3,600 acres of corn, wheat and cotton, and run 1,200 head of cattle on winter wheat.  Greg, the son, has focused his attention on implementing new crop watering techniques, leveraging technology and conservation practices to combat the inherent dryness brought on by the strong Panhandle winds.

Finding the Future of Agriculture

Agricultural producers in rural America represent less than 1% of the U.S. population, yet they produce almost 75% of the food we eat in this country and much of the food eaten throughout the world. Among that 1%, the average age of the American farmer is 57 years old—making it imperative for us to engage and encourage young people to pursue agricultural careers.

Earlier this summer, while visiting Browning, Montana, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Billie Jo Kipp, President of the Blackfeet Community College (BCC) and Mr. Terry Tatsey, Director of Agricultural Programs at the college.  Their efforts and commitment to educate local students and keep young people in agriculture is inspiring.

Specialty Crop Grants Make a Difference for Farmers and Businesses

Earlier today, Secretary Vilsack announced the Specialty Crop Block Grant awards totaling $55 million dollars.  These grants will fund over 748 initiatives across the United States and its territories, and help expand opportunities for local and regional farmers.

Specialty crops produced in the U.S. include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, and are often a key source of income for America’s farmers.  Through this program, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service grants money to the state and territory for them to directly support projects creating new business opportunities, boosting efficiency and productivity, and improving food safety.

A Vital Link between the Past and Future of Agriculture

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Profile America Facts, the first American Indian Day was celebrated back in May 1916.  Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode horseback from state to state, gathering endorsements from 24 state governments to have a day to honor American Indians. In 1990, then President George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month, and this year President Obama continued the tradition.

Let’s Go Nuts on October 22nd!

This Saturday is National Nut Day, a perfect opportunity to honor nature’s nutritional dynamo– the nut.  It seems that Americans are more than a little nutty about nuts, which are considered specialty crops.  Nearly one out of every 10 of us eats nuts, or a nut product, at least once a day.  Almonds, walnuts and pecans are the top three nuts consumed in the United States* and the production of almonds, walnuts and pistachios has more than doubled in the last decade.

Supporting Specialty Crop Growers Through State Block Grants

When I go to the grocery store or visit my local farmers market, on the top of my shopping list are healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, and nuts. I know that these items, part of a larger agricultural group classified as specialty crops, are a critical component of maintaining a healthy diet and that it is important for me to include them in my family’s meals. Making sure that all Americans have access to healthy foods like specialty crops is a priority for me and for the USDA.

USDA Conducts Potato Research in Colorado

As part of the Mexican Trade Mission hosted by the Colorado Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Potato Administrative Committee in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado, we experienced an extremely informative stop at the Colorado State University Research Facility in Center.  I walked away with “good news” to share with consumers, retailers, producers and my co-workers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

USDA Plants the Seeds to Help Mississippi Grow

This September we announced the 2010 awards for our Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG), a program geared toward increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables by offering grants to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.

The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which administers the program, funds projects across a broad spectrum of activity, such as research related to increasing crop yields, state marketing campaigns like “Minnesota Grown,”  and improving supply chain management for emerging local and regional food systems.  These grants can propel burgeoning projects to the next level and help drive local economies and assist farmers.  In many cases producers have benefited by diversifying their farms to include specialty crops, such as blueberries and pistachios, to meet consumer demand.