Jan 30, 2024
USDA invests in strengthening specialty crops sector

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing in programs designed to support the U.S. specialty crops industry, including promoting exports and funding a maximum residue limits (MRL) database.

The launch of the Assisting Specialty Crop Exports (ASCE) initiative will provide $65 million for projects that will help the specialty crop sector increase global exports and expand to new markets.

USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant ProgramAdditionally, USDA is announcing $72.9 million in grant funding available to support the specialty crops industry through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) will fund innovative projects designed to bolster the competitiveness of the expanding specialty crop sector. Specialty crop exports totaled $24.6 billion in FY2023, representing 13.8 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports, according to a news release.

“Specialty crop producers feed our nation and the world with nutritious fruits, nuts, and vegetables and supply our communities with horticulture products. Yet, they have unique challenges and opportunities to compete in the domestic market and a vast array of barriers that prevent their world-class products from entering foreign markets,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is making these significant investments to maintain, open, and grow markets and reduce and eliminate trade barriers for U.S. specialty crop producers, which in turn will support rural communities, enhance our competitive edge, and help establish lifelong consumers for U.S. food and agricultural products across the world.”

In Grant, Michigan, on Jan. 29, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt and Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor joined Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, to highlight the investments and the Specialty Crop Competitiveness Initiative (SCCI), which is part of a larger effort to support specialty crop producers. While there, Moffitt, Taylor and Stabenow met with producers at a local business as the Biden-Harris Administration continues to improve market access for American products, including specialty crops, according to the release.

SCCI’s objective is to better focus USDA resources and identify needs to support the competitiveness of U.S. specialty crops in domestic and international markets, minimize costs, manage pests and diseases, strengthen supply chains, and support climate outcomes.

Assisting specialty crops exports

ASCE is funded through a set aside from USDA’s new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program (RAPP), a foreign market development and food security initiative announced in October. USDA plans to use $65 million for initial projects that will address barriers unique to specialty crops exports. The initiative, administered by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), will support projects that advance U.S. specialty crop exports by expanding domestic understanding of foreign food safety systems and foreign understanding of U.S. food safety systems. The initiative will also collect information needed for export certification, and packaging to meet other countries’ new requirements.

USDA Specialty Crops logo

“Each specialty crop product faces a myriad of import standards in every market it enters, including plant health standards, facility and product certifications, packaging requirements, licensing, inspections, maximum residue limits for pesticides and fungicides, and various import permits,” Taylor said in the release. “In order to meet all these requirements, it takes significant investment by commodity organizations and producers to navigate the gauntlet of regulations. The new resources provided through Assisting Specialty Crop Exports initiative will help introduce U.S. specialty crops to new markets and consumers around the globe.”

USDA has identified three workstreams to assist specialty crop exporters: commodity-specific trade and regulatory capacity building; plastics and packaging solutions; and funding an MRL database. Each workstream addresses a critical issue identified by specialty crop producers and exporters. These efforts will create new market opportunities and ensure existing markets remain open to U.S. specialty crops, according to the release.

RAPP will help exporters break into new markets and increase market share in growth markets. The U.S. enjoyed a three-year streak of record agricultural exports from 2021-2023, with exports expected to remain high in FY24. Even at record export levels, the FY23 agricultural trade deficit is $19 billion, and USDA has projected that it will grow in FY24. There is also increased competition in the U.S.’ export markets in Asia and Africa. Therefore, additional investments in market development are needed to sustain and open new markets. RAPP will help exporters to diversify their markets and ensure continuity of the relationships key to market development.

Specialty crop block grants

Through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will issue noncompetitive grants to state departments of agriculture, District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands to fund projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and support specialty crop growers through marketing, education, and research.

USDA Specialty Crop Competitiveness Initiative logo“The innovative projects funded through this year’s USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program will help U.S. specialty crops producers remain competitive, open new market channels, and increase the consumption of specialty crops products,” Moffitt said in the release. “The grant program also furthers the goals of USDA’s Specialty Crops Competitiveness Initiative – ensuring that specialty crops producers and businesses have the resources they need to remain competitive in markets across the world while improving the sustainability and profitability of their operations. Programs like these are key components of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to support American agricultural producers and rural America by transforming our food system from one that benefits a few to one that benefits many.”

AMS encourages applications that serve smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, underserved producers, veteran producers, and/or underserved communities. Interested applicants should apply directly through their state departments of agriculture. A list of state contacts is available on the SCBGP website.

Applications from states and territories must be submitted electronically through www.grants.gov by May 2. More information is available in the AMS Late and Non-Responsive Application Policy.

For more information about grant eligibility, visit the SCBGP website.

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