By Ramona du Houx
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) has announced the recipients of this year’s Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) awards. Spanning a host of products, from strawberries to mixed vegetables, SCBG grants totaling $534,303.00 are being awarded to:
- Blue Barn LLC, Daybreak Growers Alliance,
- the Maine Maple Producers Association,
- the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Alliance,
- and multiple projects with the University of Maine system (in the School of Biology and Ecology, the School of Food and Agriculture, and the Maine Food and Agriculture Center).
DACFs Division of Quality Assurance and Regulation will also apply $12,000 of SCBG funding to a pilot project supporting farmers seeking certification in Good Agricultural Practices. Find more information about current and past SCBG projects on the DACF webpage.
In 2020 the DACF received twice as many proposals as in recent years. “The pool of proposals was outstanding, which reflects the dynamism and diversity among Maines specialty crop producers,” **according to Bureau Director Nancy McBrady**. Making this federal funding available to producers, researchers, and innovators of Maines specialty crops is an important way we can strengthen Maines agricultural sector.
Funding emerging specialty crop products diversify the agricultural landscape and help make crop production more sustainable.
Eric Martin, co-proprietor of Blue Barn LLC, which makes Bluet wine, says, “We think today’s Maine wild blueberry barrens could be tomorrow’s wine country, and SCBG support is an amazing step towards trying to make that happen.”
According to Dr. David Handley, Small Fruit, and Vegetable Specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, the grant program also helps advance research that would otherwise put farmers at high financial risk to undertake themselves.
Funds from the SCBG program allow UMCE to test for new small fruit varieties that are both well suited to Maines climate and offer improvements in quality, winter hardiness, and pest tolerance.
The federal SCBG program is intended to increase the competitiveness of non-commodity crops. The USDA defines specialty crops as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture). Through the block grant model, the federal government awards funding to individual state agricultural agencies to make local decisions about how to allocate the funds. Typically, the DACF releases an SCBG Request for Proposals each year in February, with applications due in March or April. Since 2002, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has awarded over 6.5 million dollars to the Maine DACF to support the growing number of specialty crop producers selling into local and regional markets.