$660,000 Available To Maine Growers To Pursue Innovation

February 20, 2024

For more information contact: Jim Britt at: Jim.Britt@maine.gov

Augusta - The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry's (DACF) Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources is seeking proposals for the 2024 USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP).

SCBGP is federally funded through the United States Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Marketing Services. The competitive grant program funds projects designed to enhance, expand, and inform Maines specialty crop industry. Eligible applicants include non-profit organizations, local, state, and federal government entities, for-profit organizations, and colleges and universities.

Eligible specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, maple, tree nuts, herbs, mushrooms, and nursery, floriculture, and horticulture crops. Visit the USDA SCBGP website for a detailed definition of specialty crops, a list of commonly eligible specialty crops, and a list of ineligible commodities.

Funded applications may be for projects designed to develop and implement research, promotion, marketing, nutrition, food safety and security, education, increased knowledge and consumption, improved efficiency and reduced costs of distribution systems, conservation, product development, food agricultural practices, good handling practices and/or good manufacturing practices. Grant funds will not be awarded for projects that solely benefit a particular commercial product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual. Single organizations, institutions, and individuals are encouraged to participate as project partners.

DACF administers the SCBGP each year and will evaluate all applications for eligibility based on the criteria listed in the RFA package. Qualified project applications will be reviewed and scored by a review panel. All DACF-approved projects will be incorporated into one state grant request and submitted to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service for funding approval.

"In 2023, Maine made nine project awards totaling $597,958. We anticipate awarding approximately $600,000 this year," said DACF Agricultural Resource Development Division Director Michelle Webb. "These grant awards provide important opportunities for specialty crop research, innovation, marketing and promotion, food safety, education, product development, and improved practices and efficiencies."

Projects must enhance the competitiveness of a Maine specialty crop, and they must benefit a specialty crop segment as a whole rather than to an individual or an organization. Past and current awards have supported research into Maine's most crucial specialty crops, developed pest management and soil health strategies, enhanced market promotion, and implemented and food safety practices.

Applications directly aligning with one or more DACF priority areas will be considered more favorably in the evaluation process. The 2024 priority areas are:

  • Projects that enhance food safety education, primarily in relation to FDA rules regarding improved handling and processing of specialty crops;
  • Projects to enhance soil and ecosystem health;
  • Projects that market Maine specialty crops to diversified and expanded markets or that research potential market expansion efforts and strategies. Examples include, but are not limited to, increasing sales to institutions and other target markets that are new or have potential for growth in sales of Maine agricultural products;
  • Projects that improve adaptation and increase resilience to climate-related crop disturbances in support of long-term farm business vitality and productivity, such as through projects that address specialty crops ability to mitigate and/or adapt to climate change, conserve agricultural land and water, detect and manage emerging pests and diseases, or implementation of practices that sequester carbon, reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases, and/or improve soil health;
  • And projects that alleviate supply chain disruptions for specialty crop inputs, processing, or distribution.
"DACF is so excited to offer these resources to Maine's agricultural sector," said Craig Lapine, Director of the Maine Bureau of Agriculture, Food & Rural Resources. "In the past, these grants have spurred exciting innovations in production, marketing, stewardship, and more. We have high hopes that this year's applicants will continue that tradition."

Since 2002, the SCBGP has awarded more than $7 million to Maine DACF to support the growing number of specialty crop producers selling into local and regional markets. DACF encourages applications that serve smaller farms, new and beginning farmers, underserved producers, veteran producers, and underserved communities. Agricultural associations, industry and producer groups, municipalities, community-based organizations, educational institutions, and non-profits are eligible for this grant opportunity.

Eligible groups must submit proposals for grants of up to $100,000 per project by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, March 18, 2024. Those interested in applying should view RFA# 202402032 2024 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program on the Maine Division of Procurement Services RFP and RFA website for full application instructions and deadline information.

Funding for the Maine 2024 SCBGP was made possible by a grant/cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service. The RFA contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.