Support for Maine Specialty Crops!

October 13, 2017

For more information, contact: John Bott, Jessica Nixon at 207-287-3156

Augusta – Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb announced that Maine is partnering with USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to invest $529,722.59 to support Maine Specialty Crop Producers. Funding will allow Maine to pursue 8 initiatives that will strengthen and enhance Maine specialty crops. Projects include: Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) assistance for farmers, landscape and nurseries marketing, the branding and quality of Maine maple products, and support for wild blueberry and potato growers.

"These investments strengthen many of Maine’s most important agricultural crops, defined by the federal government as specialty crops,” said Commissioner Walt Whitcomb. “Selected projects benefit farmers and consumers by helping growers make food safety enhancements, solve research needs for better pest management, and make informed decisions that will increase the profitability and sustainability of Maine agriculture. These investments strengthen markets for Maine crops and help develop new economic opportunities.”

2017 Specialty Crop Block Grant Maine Project Profiles:

AgMatters, LLC - Assistance for Specialty Crop Growers Affected by F.S.M.A 2017-2018 - $29,120

Summary: AgMatters LLC will receive funding to provide Maine Specialty Crop Growers assistance as they prepare for the implementation of FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule. AgMatters LLC will inform growers of the requirements of the Rule and assist a minimum of 25 growers this final year of this grant, as they implement the food safety assurances required by the law. AgMatters LLC will take on the impartial role of tutors/supporters/advisors/advocates to Maine Specialty Crop growers and producers who will be affected by this law.

AgMatters, LLC - Food Safety Audit Preparation Assistance 2017-2018 - $29,120

Summary: AgMatters LLC will receive funding to provide Maine Specialty Crop growers assistance as they prepare for GAP/GHP (Good Agricultural/Good Handling) or Produce Harmonized audits during the 2017-2018 grant cycle. Success will be measured by grower’s evaluations indicating growth in understanding of fecal indicators and pathogens; increased safety knowledge of all inputs into the specialty crop chain; their increased understanding of the roles of humans, plants and animals as vectors of pathogens; and preharvest and postharvest process impacts on microbial and chemical threats to the safety of produce--basic food safety.

AgMatters LLC will speak at grower and other meetings to make growers aware of these services. AgMatters LLC will meet with at least 30 growers individually or in small groups, and offer training that makes growers aware of food safety issues, gives them suggestions for adaptation of the model to individual farms, and assists them in their creation of a Food Safety Plan for their farm as they prepare for their audits. AgMatters LLC is always available for follow up needs of farms.

Maine Landscape & Nursery Association - Fully-Integrated Marketing Campaign for Year-Round Support of Maine's Nursery and Landscape Specialty Crop Industry - $85,750

Summary: The Maine Landscape and Nursery Association (MELNA) received funding for a comprehensive, year-round marketing campaign to support Maine’s Nursery and Landscape Specialty Crop industry. The campaign will help launch two new initiatives: 1) A state-wide Public Relations awareness program that provides year-round support of MELNA and Maine’s horticulture industry across a range of strategic areas and 2) Support of MELNA leadership of, and participation in, a Maine school garden collaborative. These programs will be designed to build upon recent, successful MELNA marketing initiatives to increase consumer interest, awareness, and demand for Maine’s specialty crops, which include the Plant Something! Plant Maine! campaign and the brand new 2017 Maine Flower Show.

Maine Maple Producer's Association - Increasing and Branding Maine's Share of the Consumer Maple Market - $35,929.88

Summary: In order to expand the market for maple syrup products, the Maine Maple Producers Association will receive funding to execute a professionally designed marketing plan that will promote the growing state maple industry and increase retail sales by at least 10%. This will increase jobs, retail business opportunities and profitability of Maine’s maple economy. Professionally designed marketing plan components will establish a “Maine brand” and develop brand awareness in Maine’s target maple markets enabling Maine to compete successfully with other maple marketing states and provinces both regionally and nationally.

Maine Potato Board - Evaluating Alternative Crops in Potato Production System - $100,000

Summary: The Maine Potato Board has taken a lead role in researching and promoting alternative crops that can be grown in conjunction with potatoes with the goals of improving economic returns to the grower, providing options for growers to expand current crop rotation lengths, and directly and indirectly improving potato yields.

They will receive funding to build on the results from the previously funded two-year Specialty Crop Block Grant “Improving Maine Potato Yields through Increased Rotation Lengths and Improved Rotation Crop Profitability” in an effort to develop an informational resource for growers interested in diversifying their cropping systems. This project will continue to experiment and evaluate novel cropping systems, marketing options for alternative crops, and quantify the effect these crops have on potato quality and quantity.

University of Maine System - Microbial safety and quality of Maine maple syrup: Influence of production and handling practices - $19,932

Summary: This partnership with the Maine Agricultural & Forest Experiment Station and University of Maine Cooperative Extension (divisions of the University of Maine System acting through the University of Maine) will receive funding to address microbial quality and safety of Maine maple syrup. This project will reduce product loss and evaluate risk of potential mycotoxin production due to fungal contamination by defining processing steps needed to inactivate fungal contaminants during production and packaging of syrup. It will also generate previously unavailable data regarding the fate of Listeria monocytogenes during syrup production and packaging that will assist producers with preparation of FDA food safety plans.

University of Maine System - Development of Advance Phosphorous Recommendations for Maine Potato Growers - $91,432

Summary: The University of Maine Cooperative Extension will receive funding to develop soil and climate based phosphorus (P) recommendations, to improve nutrient use efficiency and reduce grower’s input cost with environmental issues as well e.g. eutrophication of lakes and rivers due to P pollution. Objectives of this study are to create robust grower specific P recommendations, with multiple sites that will include varied soil textures, soil moisture, and weather conditions. Yield, quality, soil moisture, weather data, P uptake, tissue sampling, and soil physical, chemical, and biological data will be used for this study. A ground-based active optical (GBAO) sensor will be used to monitor plant health, and adjust fertilizer application, which may help in developing yield prediction models. There will be significant outcomes from this study. An online mobile application will be prepared where growers will be able to access required P rates for his field using maximum yield potential, soil type, and closest weather station. It will help in managing P variably, which will benefit in reducing its application rates. Since recommendations will be economical using potato size, and other quality parameters, growers will be able to decide whether additional P application will improve their revenue.

University of Maine System - Optimizing inputs for wild blueberry weed and disease integrated management (IPM) - $99,200

Summary: The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine (WBC) in collaboration with the University of Maine will receive funding for determining Optimizing inputs for wild blueberry weed and disease integrated management (IPM) for Maine’s 510 wild blueberry growers with 44,000 acres of commercial production. Wild Blueberry growers have consistently ranked controlling weeds and diseases as two of their top concerns for sustaining crop production and yield. If funded, this project will continue to: 1) evaluate herbicides and identify the best material and timings that will provide the most cost effective control of weed species, 2) evaluate fungicides and timings to control mummy berry and leaf spots to provide the most cost effective control of these diseases. This program will also educate growers on how to manage diseases and weeds by rotating or combining pesticides to provide the most cost effective controls to prevent yield reductions. Growers will be surveyed at educational sessions to determine understanding and adoption of the disease and weed management strategies evaluated in this program.

Since 2006, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which is administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has awarded over $4.5 million dollars through the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry as funds that go directly to support the growing number of Maine specialty crop producers who are selling into local and regional markets.

Additon information is available at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/scbgp