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Specialty Crop Grants Benefit Vermont Specialty Crop Producers

October 11, 2022
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October 11, 2022 | Montpelier, VT – The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) announces grants totaling $292,268 for eight projects to benefit Vermont fruit, vegetable, and value-added producers and increase consumer access to locally produced food. These grants, funded through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), were awarded to five organizations to undertake a range of research, development, outreach, and marketing projects. The grants will leverage an additional $148,907 in matching funds.

 “The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program grows Vermont’s agricultural economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts. “This year’s Specialty Crop Block Grant funding will help Vermont fruit, vegetable, honey, maple, wine, and other value-added producers and provide consumers with more local food. These grants represent an exciting step forward in growing our economy and making Vermont more affordable.”

Since the program’s launch in 2006, the Vermont SCBGP has invested over $4 million in projects to benefit Vermont specialty crop producers. The program supports projects led by producers, researchers, and agricultural service providers, including a recently completed project to improve nutrient management in high tunnels on vegetable farms, directed by University of Vermont (UVM) Extension. This project is an example of an applied research project that has helped Vermont specialty crop growers improve production practices and increase revenue.

In this project, UVM Extension developed an Excel-based tool that generates nutrient application recommendations to improve high tunnel tomato crop yields. Extension worked closely with over fifty farms in 2020 and 2021 to implement the recommendations and measure yields. On average, growers reported a yield improvement of thirty percent. So far, 120 growers have adopted Extension’s nutrient management recommendations. If these recommendations were applied to the entire estimated high tunnel tomato production in Vermont, this could result in an annual increase of $2.8 million in tomato revenue. 

VAAFM awards SCBGP funds through a competitive review process guided by industry, nonprofit and government stakeholders. A stakeholder advisory committee identified the development of innovative horticultural production practices, climate change adaptation, pest and disease management, food safety, value chain enhancement, technical assistance, market access, and producer collaboration as funding priorities for 2022. A proposal review committee representing diverse fields made funding recommendations, and VAAFM selected the following projects out of sixteen applications representing total funding requests of $629,508: 

  • Cedar Circle Farm and Education Center to conduct on-farm research on organic, no-till methods and share results with farms in Vermont and across New England ($30,085) 
  • Food Connects to develop new wholesale customers, new supply chain relationships, and marketing materials to bring Vermont specialty crops to new markets in New England ($56,105) 
  • University of Vermont Fruit Program to develop a UVM Food Systems Digital Media Internship and redesign UVM Fruit digital communications platforms ($13,529) 
  • University of Vermont Bee Lab to support Vermont bee producers in improving their bee stock through disease testing and diagnostic services ($49,345) 
  • University of Vermont Department of Plant and Soil Science to assess the potential of overwintering vegetable peas as a dual-use cover crop and new early-season vegetable ($39,207) 
  • Vermont Maple Sugar Makers' Association to purchase an industrial labeling machine and providing food-safe labeling and fulfillment services for VMSMA-branded maple containers ($28,000) 
  • Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to improve producer participation, data collection, and reporting for farmers markets, agritourism, and sponsored events ($75,997) 

Each of these Vermont SCBGP projects directly addresses recommendations, goals, and strategies from the Vermont Agriculture and Food Strategic Plan 2021–2030. The Strategic Plan, published by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, outlines a vision for Vermont’s food system in 2030 along with goals, objectives, and priority strategies for action.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service awards Specialty Crop Block Grants annually to the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories. In Vermont, VAAFM administers these funds to enhance the competitiveness of Vermont and regionally grown specialty crops, defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).”  

View the USDA press release announcing Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Funding Awarded to Vermont. Learn more about the Vermont Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.  

For questions about this announcement or the Vermont SCBGP, email AGR.SpecialtyCrops@vermont.gov or call (802) 522-7811. 

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