Illinois Department of Agriculture To Receive More Than $600,000

SPRINGFIELD, IL. – The Illinois Department of Agriculture will receive more than $600,000 through the latest federal Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.  The funds, part of the 2014 Farm Bill, will be split between 16 projects that are intended to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce.

“Thanks to grants like these we are able to strengthen our state’s specialty crop industry,” said Acting Agriculture Director Warren Goetsch.  “The most recent census of agriculture showed that more than 106,000 acres of Illinois farmland are devoted to growing specialty crops on more than 3,200 farms.  These grants will not only help bolster the industry, but also expand public access to nutritious, locally-grown fruits and vegetables.”

Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops, including floriculture.  Illinois is the largest producer of pumpkins and horseradish in the nation, and Illinois ranks among the top ten states in acreage of cantaloupes, green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn.  Illinois also is home to a flourishing grape and wine market, with 1,197 acres of farmland dedicated to growing grapes on 421 farms.  According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, sales of all specialty crops in Illinois, including nursery and greenhouse sales, totaled almost $470 million in 2012.

A list of the grant recipients and a brief description of their projects follows:

•       Partner with Family Farmed to increase the food safety of Illinois specialty crops to meet the demand for high quality local food by developing and running workshops for farmers; create a website to help famers create farm-specific food safety plan, and offer one-on-one technical assistance. ($24,204.81)

•       Partner with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance to increase the local consumption of Illinois specialty crops through education and outreach at grocery stores, tasting at local events, cooking classes, and promotions of specialty crop products, with the intention of increasing the economic niche Illinois specialty crop farmers fill, creating jobs and economic growth throughout rural Illinois. ($32,579.00)

•       Partner with the Illinois Green Industry Association to promote the environmental and health benefits of installing landscape specialty crops, such as trees, flowers and shrubs, in the hope of increasing the use and sale of these specialty crops through a multipronged marketing campaign. ($36,600.00)

•       Partner with the Illinois Farmers Market Association to increase the sale of locally grown Illinois specialty crops by developing and disseminating a phone app that will allow users to identify specialty crops products that are currently in season in their particular location, as well as share profiles of locations where these items can be purchased. ($29,480.00)

•       Partner with the Illinois Specialty Growers Association to organize a conference for Illinois specialty crop producers, giving them the opportunity to network, visit a trade show with cutting edge technology, and attend education sessions focusing on conventional and organic production, marketing, food safety, risk management, agri-tourism, labor issues, pest and disease management, and more. ($32,000.00)

•       Partner with the Land Connection for greater access, knowledge, and purchase of Illinois specialty crops, with a focus on economically disadvantaged communities, through a multipronged media campaign, marketing material and recipe/nutrition cards, and direct marketing to SNAP recipients.  ($38,956.14)

•       Partner with Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom to improve the knowledge of school children regarding the nutritional benefits of Illinois specialty crops by creating marketing material and support trainings and county program implementation to ensure that these new resources are actively utilized throughout the state. ($15,000.00)

•       Partner with the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association to increase the production and marketability of Illinois wine grapes by organizing a conference where agricultural and manufacturing best practices that can be shared with current and potential growers with a targeted outcome of increasing the market share of Illinois wines within the state. ($16,418.36)

•       Partner with the Experimental Station to create an education campaign for schools and neighborhoods in Chicago to increase the knowledge of the nutritional benefits and enjoyment of consuming fresh and healthy foods, as well as how to grow and prepare them through in school and summer education programs and training and demonstrations at farmers markets. ($15,800.00)

•       Partner with the University of Illinois to increase the production and sale of niche specialty crops, such as elderberry, aronia and goji berries by conducting research into the most effective pest management strategies for these under studied crops and work with current and potential producers to integrate these finds into their crop management strategies. ($28,397.00)

•       Partner with Southern Illinois University to increase the production of Illinois wine grapes by creating improved soil management strategies which are causing growers to produce less than 50% of their yield potential amongst 75% of growers by disseminating improved irrigation, nitrogen and vineyard floor management. ($53,511.00)

•       Partner with Southern Illinois University to study specialty crops cooling strategies in order to determine the best technologies to harness in order to increase the shelf-life of perishable specialty crops, with a goal of increasing shelf-life of 7 days, and disseminate this information to famers so that they may increase profits by decreasing crop wastage. ($29,826.00)

•       Partner with Southern Illinois University to support the expansion of organic strawberry production, which receive a premium on the market and thus have the potential to boost incomes, by studying and disseminating more effective crop management strategies, including more effective irrigation and disease mitigation techniques. ($62,996.00)

•       Partner with Southern Illinois University to examine how to produce organic tomatoes with lower amounts of nitrogen and greater water efficiency, and potentially increase production, decrease costs, and decrease nitrogen pollution, and disseminate this information out to Illinois tomato growers through workshops and training materials. ($17,171.00)

•       Partner with the University of Illinois to combat the threat that Bacterial spot is causing to cucurbits across the Midwest, especially in winter squash and pumpkin production by identifying resistant cultivars and disseminating this information, and updated crop management strategies through workshops and educational material. ($64,196.00)

•       Partner with the University of Illinois to facilitate the establishment of a hazelnut industry in Illinois by studying those varieties that grow best in Illinois climate through performance trials to be held at a variety of locations and environments across the state. ($97,660.60)

•       Ensure that the State Agency and sub-awardees abide by Federal and State requirements and regulations by performing pre-award and post-award activities to administer Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding. ($9,367.00)

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