USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

The USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBG) program is a competitive grant program, solicited once a year, which funds market research, market promotion and new technology projects specifically to benefit specialty crop producers. The Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry and a Review Committee select projects to fund through a local, competitive proposal process. Selected projects are submitted to the USDA for review, and the Maine DACF administers the Specialty Crop Block Grant each year. Grants typically are provided to projects that will help a number of businesses, rather than support individual businesses.

Maine and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

Since 2002, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has awarded over $6.5 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.

Application

The 2021 grant application is available online. Find details about eligibility and the grant application process in the RFA. Applications are due March 30th.

Grant Recipients

2020 Awards +

2020 Awards

Organization Award Amount Project Name Description
Blue Barn LLC $62,800.00 The Millennial Opportunity: Expanding Supply, Demand and Infrastructure for a New Era of Maine Wild Blueberry Sparkling Wine Bluet, creator of Maine’s first nationally viable wild blueberry sparkling wine, will work with a wide range of stakeholders over the next three years to: 1) lead unique marketing, distribution and production efforts to define, claim and promote a new Maine wild blueberry beverage category for the Millennial-driven 21st century market; 2) expand and deepen grower and producer participation in this market through production, education, and outreach, and 3) begin building the Maine wild blueberry wine industry infrastructure needed to drive global market access, foster a new generation of local winemakers, and champion best practices and policies that sustain growers, producers, and a thriving Maine wild blueberry wine industry. 
Daybreak Growers Alliance $38,216.00 Expanding on Daybreak Growers Alliance's Wholesale Aggregation, Marketing and Distribution Model for Maine Specialty Grown Crops Daybreak Growers Alliance will expand upon its existing wholesale program with the aid of a second year of SCBG funding support. In its first year, Daybreak Growers Alliance is on track to realize its goal of $126,000 in Maine grown specialty crop sales. In its second year, Daybreak Growers Alliance’s wholesale program will increase that sales goal by 50% to realize $189,000 in specialty crop sales. This increase will reflect a 50% increase in sales for DGA’s specialty crop farm partners, directly facilitating sales growth for 30+ Maine specialty crop farmers. An additional 30 specialty crop growers will benefit as DGA creates and shares findings from the creation of this replicable, low-overhead aggregation and marketing model. Further, through participation in online and offline opportunities to share findings with other Maine growers, and data collected on audience size of these resources that Daybreak Growers Alliance’s best practices and findings will be shared with over 200 Maine specialty crop farmers.
Maine Maple Producers Association $22,500.00 Increasing the Sales and Price of Maine Pure Maple Syrup The Maine Maple Producers Association will expand its marketing efforts by further developing its educational and marketing outreach to consumers and by enhancing its communications to maple producers in Maine so that marketing is amplified by producers sharing the professionally developed marketing strategies with their local and regional customers.
Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association $64,956.00 Maine Produce Safety Improvement Project The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association will enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops and increase the number of farms able to come into compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Produce Safety Rule and/or a GAP/GHP audit by providing food safety educational, financial, and one-on-one technical assistance resources to Maine Farmers.
University of Maine System - School of Biology and Ecology $84,647.00 Using Foliar Fertilizers and Soil Amendments to Improve Wild Blueberry Production and Resilience to Warming In 2020, we evaluated new fertilizers for their efficacy, impact on pest presence, yield, berry quality, and cost to the farmer. We also began evaluating blueberry growth under three temperature regimes that mimic climate warming. Based on our research to date, foliar calcium and plant growth regulators merit further study. We also found that wild blueberry plants grown at 3 to 5C above ambient temperatures had an extended growth period yet less available soil water and nutrients due to increased water loss under warming. It is critical that we begin to understand how to adapt to changes in crop production given new products on the market, longer growing seasons, and warming conditions. Based on work to date, we are now ready to address the following objectives 1) further evaluate promising foliar fertilizer products identified in 2019-2020 on crops and pests, 2) test mulching and biochar as drought, warming, and pests management tools, and 3) disseminate results of this project to wild blueberry growers, processors, and stakeholders in Maine. 
University of Maine System - School of Biology and Ecology $79,994.00 Enhanced Integrated Pest Management Practices for Control of Diseases in Maine Wild Blueberry This University of Maine project, supported by the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine (WBCM), will continue to develop new methods of pathogen detection and control and implement those methods in an Integrated Pest Management program for diseases. There are 510 wild blueberry growers in Maine, and there can be up to $17 million in annual grower losses due to diseases. This project will: 1) continue to evaluate the best timing for control of Exobasidium fruit spot, 2) evaluate the best timing of new fungicides, particularly organic materials, for control of  mummy berry and leaf spots, 3) test new methods, molecular and models of fungal development, to determine when fungal spores are present to cause infection thereby improving the timing of fungicide applications, and 4) use weather station network data and applied research to provide growers with disease forecasts for mummy berry, Botrytis blight and growing degree day models of key plant development stages. This program will also educate growers on fungicide rotation to decrease the risk of fungicide resistance. Growers will be surveyed at educational sessions to determine understanding and adoption of the disease management strategies evaluated in this program
University of Maine System - School of Food and Agriculture $52,402.00 Peach Variety Testing and Development For a Local Market The University of Maine at Highmoor Farm will evaluate strategies for reducing the risk of producing peaches. We will test 20 new peach varieties for climactic adaptation and suitability to the local market, and will develop new peach varieties with improved cold hardiness using traditional breeding methods. We will also systematically compare sites in Maine for yield and tree survival to develop planting recommendations for growers. This work will be conducted on behalf of Maine’s fruit growers who will be informed of the results and progress
University of Maine System - Maine Food and Agriculture Center $14,595.00 Expanding Maine's Fresh Vegetable market Through Improved Winter Squash Storage The University of Maine will carry out a survey of commercial winter squash growing operations to determine the cause of poor storage life of this crop. Research at the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station will evaluate potential pre- and post-harvest treatments of winter squash, including curing and surface sanitizing techniques to improve post-harvest quality and prolong storage life. Improving winter squash storage life will allow farmers to significantly extend their market season into the fall and winter months, when cash flow is typically very slow. 
University of Maine System - Maine Food and Agriculture Center $83,321.00 Maine Potato Integrated Pest Management - 2021 Without reliable and sustainable pest management strategies, Maine’s $500 million potato industry faces 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 Cooperative Extension Potato Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program will provide support through field monitoring, disease forecasting, and distribution of educational materials. The program will employ eight seasonal aides, maintain 200 specialized insect traps, coordinate a Maine-specific network of satellite weather information sites to aid in disease forecasting, and survey 75 potato fields on a weekly basis. Applied research regarding emerging potato diseases including different strains of potato virus Y (PVY) and their associated aphid vectors will also be conducted. Funding this program will provide growers with current information on specific and timely pest management strategies in order to minimize pesticide applications and maximize potato yield. 
University of Maine System - Maine Food and Agriculture Center $30,872.00 Expanding Maine's Berry Industry to Improve Farm Profitability The University of Maine will establish scientifically designed trials of strawberries, raspberries, and highbush blueberries at the Maine Agriculture Experiment Station in Monmouth to determine the adaptability of new varieties from breeding programs both national and international, which will generate critical information needed to select the best preforming plants for Maine growing conditions and could result in significant improvements in current fruit quality and yield standards, which will allow Maine farmers to successfully expand fresh berry production and meet the growing demand for locally produced fruit.
Maine DACF GAP Program $12,000.00 Pilot to Encourage GAP/GHP Certification for Growers of Eligible Specialty Crops in Maine The Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations, Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, will administer a pilot project aimed at opening marketing opportunities for Maine produce growers. This program will reimburse growers for 50% of the cost of an initial Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices (GAP/GHP) Audit up to $500. QAR staff perform the audits under the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration; QAR will verify audit costs and process requests for reimbursement.

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2019 Awards +

2019 Awards

Organization Award Amount Project Name Description
DACF Specialty Crop Marketing $58,815.63 Promoting awareness of key Maine specialty crops through video to increase sales. In order to promote the sale of Maine specialty crop fruits and vegetables both within Maine and across the region, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry will work with a professional marketing firm to create a series of educational videos and public service announcements for use on television and social media. The series will educate consumers about what specialty crops are grown in Maine, where to purchase them, and the value of selecting locally grown. The project will benefit the small growers who raise a variety of crops, and we’ll work to ensure it supports the messaging of the larger grower/producer groups. The one-year project will include planning the campaign, taping and editing the video, and planning and implementing a social media campaign.
Daybreak Growers Alliance $46,555.00 Creating a replicable low-overhead aggregation and marketing model for Maine Grown Specialty Crops. This project will develop a new innovative model for getting specialty crops to market that can be replicated by other groups of farmers. It will result in an increase in sales of specialty crop products from our partnering farms by 80% in year one, and a three year sales projection of $520,000. This will be a result of a growth in the number of wholesale accounts and volume of sales to these accounts. Through this growth this project will help to build the rural Maine economy by job creation and rural business development along with providing significant economic benefit to it’s partnering farms. An additional 30 specialty crop growers will benefit as DGA creates and shares findings from the creation of this replicable, low-overhead aggregations and marketing model.
Maine DACF GAP Pilot $20,000.00 Pilot to encourage GAP/GHP certification for growers of eligible specialty crops in Maine The Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations, Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, will administer a pilot project aimed at opening marketing opportunities for Maine produce growers. This program will reimburse growers for 50% of the cost of an initial Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices (GAP/GHP) Audit up to $500. QAR staff perform the audits under the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration; QAR will verify audit costs and process requests for reimbursement.
Maine Landscape and Nursery Association $54,738.00 Plant Something at School 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.
Maine Landscape and Nursery Association $53,950.00 IPM Education There is a gap in the education for the general public about safe, sustainable production of specialty crops, especially concerning the use of Integrated Pest Management or IPM. Misconceptions have led to frustrated gardeners, and unnecessary, economically damaging laws and bans of “all synthetic pesticides” in some communities.
Maine Maple Producers Association $36,260.00 Increasing Maine’s share of the Consumer Maple Products Market In order to expand the market for maple syrup products, the Maine Maple Producers Association will establish an agreement with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to execute a professionally designed and executed 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 the profitability of Maine’s maple economy and the people employed directly and indirectly in the industry. Actions for increasing market share include: hiring a professional agency to conduct a monthly marketing strategy on behalf of producers, hiring a professional photographer to create a photo library of Maine maple related pictures, and develop high quality recipe cards for MMPA’s promotional use as handouts and to use for social media outreach.
Maine Potato Board $87,714.00 Evaluating No-Till Production Practices in Potato Cropping Systems The Maine Potato Board will investigate the potential economic and environmental benefits as well as the challenges of adopting and implementing no-till production practices during the non-potato years of the crop rotation by managing a series of on farm demonstration trials evaluating cash and cover crops.
University of Maine $86,354.00 New methods of improving wild blueberry production with IPM for diseases This University of Maine project, supported by the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine (WBCM), will develop new methods of pathogen detection and control and implement those methods in an Integrated Pest Management program for diseases. There are 510 wild blueberry growers in Maine managing 44,000 commercial acres.
University of Maine $12,233.00 Enhancing competitiveness of the potato specialty crop through more sustainable, diverse, and resilient cropping systems. The University of Maine at Presque Isle will conduct a pilot study to potentially increase the efficiency and profitability of potato production by evaluating optimal varieties and processes for rotational crops using a greenhouse study, conducted by students, with results shared via workshops for growers.
University of Maine $19,666.00 Expanding Maine’s Berry Industry to Improve Farm Profitability The University of Maine will establish scientifically designed trials of strawberries, raspberries, and highbush blueberries at the Maine Agriculture Experiment Station in Monmouth to determine the adaptability of new varieties from breeding programs both national and international which will generate critical information needed to select the best performing plants for Maine growing conditioning and could result in significant improvements in current fruit quality and yield standards which will allow Maine farmers to successfully expand fresh berry production and meet the growing demand for locally produced fruit.
University of Maine $22,495.00 Scaling up Peach production with new and existing varieties. This University of Maine project’s goal is to increase peach production by comparing varieties for survival and yield. We will plant and compare several varieties at farms throughout southern Maine and 17 varieties at Highmoor Farm to test tree survival. Using existing orchards, we will measure flower bud hardiness in several varieties. We will develop cold hardy varieties by cross breeding existing hardy varieties with ones that have good eating quality. The expected results are the knowledge of which varieties are commercially feasible and the development of new peach varieties that will ultimately lead to greater market diversification and profitability for fruit growers.
University of Maine $89,314.00 Effects of Fertilizer and Temperature on Wild Blueberry Pests, Yield, and Quality On behalf of the wild blueberry growers in Maine, we propose a University of Maine project to study the Effects of Fertilizer and Temperature on Wild Blueberry Pests, Yield, and Quality. We request to continue our SCBGP project from 2019 into 2020. In 2019, we evaluated new fertilizers advertised to wild blueberry growers for their efficacy and impact on pests in the prune (vegetative growth) year.

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2018 Awards +

2018 Awards

Organization Award Amount Project Name Description
University of Maine $70,539 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 Scaling Up Alternative Crop Production in Maine Potato Cropping Systems 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.

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2017 Awards +

2017 Awards

Organization Award Amount Project Name
Maine Potato Board $100,000 Evaluating Alternative Crops in Potato Production System
University of Maine $99,200 Optimizing inputs for wild Blueberry Weed and disease Integrated Management 2017 -2019
Maine Landscape & Nursery Association $85,750 Fully-Integrated Marketing Campaign for Year-Round support of Maine's Nursery and Landscape Specialty Crop Industry
University of Maine $91,432 Development of Advance Phosphorous Recommendations for Maine Potato Growers
AgMatters LLC $29,120 Assistance for Specialty Crop Growers Affected by FSMA 2017-2018
AgMatters LLC $29,120 Food Safety Audit Preparation Assistance 2017-2018
Maine Maple Producer's $35,929.88 Increasing and Branding Maine's Share of the Consumer Maple Market
University of Maine $19,932 Microbial safety and quality fo Maine maple syrup: Influence of Production and Handling Practices

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2016 Awards +

2016 Awards

Organization Award Amount Project Name
AgMatters LLC $28,870 Assistance for Specialty Crop Growers Affected by F.S.M.A. 2016-2018
AgMatters LLC $28,500 Food Safety Preparation Assistance 2016-2018
Maine Landscape & Nursery Association $78,500 Expanding the Plant Something Marketing Campaign to Support Maine's Nursery and Landscape Specialty Crop Industry
Maine Potato Board $100,000 Maine Seed Potato Survey for Dickeya
DEP $34,500 Improving Nutrient Management and Water Quality on Aroostook County Potato Fields
University of Maine $97,792 Maine Potato Integrated Pest Management
Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine $29,735 Development of a model of mummy berry disease transmission in Maine Wild Blueberry
Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine $98,600 Preventing Weed and Disease Resistence: Maine Wild Blueberry Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - Year 2
University of Maine $10,558 Building a Hops Industry in Maine - Year 3

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2015 Awards +

2015 Awards

Organization Award Amount Project Name
AgMatters LLC $29,222.66 Food Safety Audit Preparation Assistance 2015-2016
AgMatters LLC $28,256 Assistance for Specialty Crop Growers Affected by FSMA 2015-2016
Maine Landscape & Nursery Association $59,750 Establish the Plant Something Marketing Campaign to Support Maine's Nursery and Landscape Specialty Crop Industry
Maine Potato Board $100,000 Maine Potato Integrated Pest Management
University of Maine $21,874 Evaluating a Strategy for Enhanced Plant Growth and Pest Management
University of Maine/Highmoor $11,229 Building a Hops Industry in Maine
Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine $46,751 Improving Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Practices to Prevent Weed Resistance for Maine Wild Blueberry Growers
Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine $99,434 Integrated Pest Management for Maine Wild Blueberry Growers
University of Maine $25,690 Potential lethal synergism of two commonly used pesticides: Effects on Honey Bees and Bumble Bees
Maine Potato Board $100,000 Improving Maine Potato Yields through Increased Rotation Lengths and Improved Rotation Crop Profitability

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2014 Awards +

2014 Awards

Organization Award Amount Project Name
Harvest New England $6,000 Enhancing the Competitiveness of New England Specialty Crops through Regional Collaboration
Maine Potato Board $125,000 ME Potato IPM
Maine Maple Producers $32,110 Enhancing Consumer and Producer Awareness of Maine Maple Syrup
Maine Potato Board $125,000 Improving Maine Potato Yields through Increased Rotation Lengths and Improved Rotation Crop Profitability
AgMatters LLC $27,256 Supporting Maine Specialty Crop Producers with Food Safety Audit Preparation
Wild Blueberry Commission $116,268 Improving Integrated Pest Management Practices for Maine Wild Blueberry Growers
Wild Blueberry Commission $56,875 Increasing the Food Safety Margin of Wild Blueberries through Improved Intervention Measures
University of Maine/Highmoor $11,210 Building a Hops Industry in Maine
Maine Ag in the Classroom $29,000 Increasing the Nutrition Knowledge and Consumption of Specialty Crops by Maine Children and Adults
University of Maine $27154.53 Honeybee Exposure to Pesticides in Maine - The question about Neonicotinoids

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