Investments in Maine Agriculture - 2018 Specialty Crop Block Grants Announced

November 9, 2018

For more information contact: Leigh Hallett at: 207-215-7388

AUGUSTA- Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walt Whitcomb announced that Maine is partnering with USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to invest $538,073 to support Maine Specialty Crop Producers. The Agricultural Resource Development division of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry (DACF) administers the program, with nine new projects selected for 2018. This annual program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and supports producers with projects designed to improve competitiveness, technology, or product safety.

Since 2006, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has awarded over $5.2 million dollars to the Maine DACF to support the growing number of specialty crop producers who are selling into local and regional markets. Each year, the Maine DACF accepts applications for Specialty Crop Block Grants, evaluating proposals in a competitive, statewide process. The program provides federal funding to projects identified as critical at the local level. Past and current awards have supported research into Maine's most crucial agricultural commodities, development of pest management strategies, school initiatives, and food safety projects. Funds have been used to improve harvests of blueberries, potatoes, maple syrup, hops, honey, and other crops.

"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, provide hands-on agricultural education for school children 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."

Among this year's awards are two for research at the University of Maine to improve blueberry production. According to Nancy McBrady, Executive Director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine, "Specialty Crop Block Grants are particularly significant to the Maine wild blueberry industry. These block grants, funded by the federal Farm Bill, enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in each state. The grants recently awarded to the University of Maine help propel critical wild blueberry research regarding Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and plant management. Further, the grants require education and training components which directly benefit wild blueberry growers in Maine."

University researchers also won awards to improve the yield and quality of the potato crop and reduce pests. Food safety Vassalboro-based AgMatters LLC is a family run crop consulting business that has successfully applied for several Specialty Crop Block Grants over the last decade. According to AgMatters' Linda Titus, "Specialty Crop Grants have allowed us to support and guide fruit and vegetable growers in Maine with their food safety needs. This has enabled growers to competitively sell their crops in larger markets and be prepared for the Food Safety & Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule. The grants have provided Maine growers the opportunity to prepare for and to meet the challenges of these new laws by educating and informing them of exactly what they need to know and do before the law is enforced."

This year’s recipients:

University of Maine ($70,539.00) - Developing Sulfur Recommendations for Maine potato growers

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension will develop sulfur recommendation for Maine potato growers to improve Maine potato yield and quality. Objectives of this study are to create robust sulfur recommendations, with multiple sites that will include varied soil textures, soil moisture, and weather conditions. Yield, quality, soil moisture, weather data, uptake, tissue sampling, and soil physical, chemical, and biological data will be used for this study.

Maine Potato Board ($100,000) - Maine potato cropping system lack diversity to remain financially and environmentally sustainable.

Over the past 3 years the Maine Potato Board (MPB) has taken a lead role in promoting and researching alternative cash crops and cover crops that can be successfully grown in conjunction with potatoes. Improving soil health and conservation and producing alternative cash crops continue to be high priorities for potato producers throughout Maine. Growers who have adopted longer potato rotations are realizing the environmental and economic benefits that accompany these diverse cropping systems.

University of Maine ($99,571) - Maine Potato Integrated Pest Management – 2019

The management of insects, diseases, and other pests is integral to sustaining the $500 million Maine potato industry. Without reliable and sustainable pest management strategies, potato growers face the potential for severe crop losses resulting in significant reductions in profits and threats to long-term viability. To ensure an adequate response to the pest-related hazards confronting potato growers, the University of Maine System, acting through the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Potato Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program, will provide support through field monitoring, disease forecasting, and distribution of educational materials.

University of Maine ($43,887) - Effects of Phenology and Fertilizer Applications on Wild Blueberry Production and Pests

The Wild Blueberry Commission (WBC) is proposing a University of Maine project to study the Effects of Phenology and Fertilizer Applications on Wild Blueberry Production and Pests. Many of the new fertilizers on the market used by wild blueberry growers have not been evaluated for their impacts on weed and disease pressure. This project will evaluate the response of the wild blueberry system to these new products. Further, increased climate variability has already altered crop growth and pest pressure, requiring research on timing and techniques for revised fertilizer applications.

University of Maine ($99,880) - Improving blueberry production with IPM for weeds and diseases

The Wild Blueberry Commission (WBC) will work with the University of Maine project to develop and implement a weed and disease Integrated Pest Management program that takes cost and efficiency into account. There are 510 wild blueberry growers in Maine managing 44,000 commercial acres. This project would prevent $32.6 million in annual grower losses and sustain $128 million in value added economic activity per year to Maine. Over the past several years wild blueberry growers have consistently ranked controlling weeds and diseases as two of their top concerns for sustaining crop production and yield.

Maine Landscape & Nursery Association ($52,070) - Plant something at school. Outreach program to Maine's PK - 12 students in support of Maine's Nursery and Landscape Specialty Crop Industry

The Maine School Garden Collaborative (MSGC), a group of four partners, consists of Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC), ReTreeUS, Maine School Garden Network (MSGN) and MELNA. This program has developed as an offshoot of MELNA’s successful Plant Something! Plant ME! (PSPM!) marketing effort supported by SCBGP in the last three years. This coordinated outreach will include new resources for school gardens, newly planted school orchards, and the publishing of a new children’s book in the "Agriculture for ME" series promoted with the "Plant Something at School!" marketing vehicle.

AgMatters, LLC $42,963 - Keeping up with the produce safety rule

AgMatters LLC will offer all Maine specialty crop growers opportunities to be made aware of the Produce Safety Rule of FSMA and guiding information as they take steps to implement it. AgMatters LLC will update growers as the law evolves, offer guidance to growers of options they may have, and serve as an information funnel for those looking for solutions to issues they may need to resolve to be compliant.

AgMatters, LLC $29,163 - Food Safety Planning

AgMatters LLC's "Food Safety Planning" will provide growers the training and understanding needed to streamline recordkeeping processes that will meet GAP standards as well as the Produce Safety Rule. "Food Safety Planning" is for all farms in Maine to help them to determine what they need to log and keep track. It will also guide growers to examine these records that they are mandated to keep and glean information from them that may inform their business decision making.

Specialty Crop Block Grant Applications:

The Specialty Crop Block Grant application period is typically in the spring. (Review this year’s projects and sign up to receive announcements online: Organizations of various sizes are eligible to apply for the grants, provided their projects serve multiple producers. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service oversees the program, and emphasizes the importance of partnerships. The Maine DACF has been fortunate to partner successfully with the USDA to offer these grants for a dozen years. The success is also due to the dedication and collaboration of grant recipients.