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California agriculture leads nation in specialty crop funding
specialty crop funding pic
The CA GROWN, Farm2Fan program received over $1.5 million in USDA Specialty Crop Block grants to promote California grown products around the country. - photo by Photo Contributed

California received $19.2 million out of approximately $60.6 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block grants awarded nationwide.

The SCBGP provides grants to state departments of agriculture to fund projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).

“This is an essential program for California in meeting a state priority - helping our specialty crop growers remain competitive,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The success of this grant program has generated widespread support for continued robust funding in the Farm Bill.”

The program will fund 54 projects, awarding grants ranging from $50,000 to $450,000 to non-profit and for-profit organizations, government entities, and colleges and universities. Selected through a competitive process, these projects focus on increasing sales of specialty crops by leveraging the California Grown identity; increasing consumption by expanding the specialty crop consumer market, improving product availability, and providing nutritional education for consumers; training growers to equip them for current and future challenges; and conducting research on conservation and environmental outcomes, pest control and disease, and organic and sustainable production practices.

Additionally, there are fixed-amount awards to fund projects that address workforce concerns throughout the specialty crop supply chain, including conforming to labor regulations, securing skilled and unskilled workers, and training the existing workforce to effectively utilize new technologies.

Some of the projects awarded through the grant include:

·         CA GROWN, Farm2Fan, $1.5 million: In 2016 and 2017, the Buy California Marketing Agreement refreshed its integrated paid media program, designed to highlight the diversity and uniqueness of "California Grown" specialty crop products. This project will continue the execution of the content campaign, "California's Agricultural Rock Stars," launched during the 2015-16 marketing year with a new focused theme entitled “Farm2Fan.” The campaign will continue to pursue the objective to elevate the importance of California's specialty crops and their farmers to rock star status and feature key influential fans of those farmers and their crops. The campaign will highlight the diversity of California's specialty crops and will incorporate a strong call to action to California and national consumers to purchase California specialty crops.

·         Tomato Product Wellness Council, $450k: California growers produce more than 98 percent of the United States’ processing tomatoes – a tomato variety used in sauce, ketchup, paste, and other products. Approximately 75 percent of all tomatoes consumed in the United States are processing tomatoes. Still, the United States demand for tomatoes is flat and vegetable consumption has declined seven percent since 2009 (Produce for Better Health Foundation). Coupled with declining prices, California’s tomato growers need to build back consumer interest and boost profitability to their farms. The Tomato Product Wellness Council which represents California tomato growers/processors seeks to accomplish this with a goal of a launching a consumer marketing campaign aimed at millennials and Hispanics, the two demographic groups with strongest purchase potential. Project activities include message development; marketing and public relations campaign; and grower/industry outreach. The project outcome is a conservative sales price increase of two percent by 2020 measured by crop price reports. The support of California Tomato Growers Association and processors help with the success of the project.

·         Stanislaus Farm Supply, $431k: San Joaquin Valley (SJV) specialty crop growers have endured a five-year drought and recent flooding, both posing long-term impacts on soil health and water quality. Crop loss from drought alone are approximately $650 million in the SJV. Growers also need to reduce the impact farms have on regional nitrate pollution. Now more than ever, SJV growers need education and training to make informed agricultural decisions on their farms. Stanislaus Farm Supply, a co-op serving approximately 9,000 specialty crop growers, seeks to expand a prior successful grower education program through this new venture with expanded workshops, trainings at industry events, and new educational materials. Activities will encourage adoption of environmentally and economically responsible farming methods. The goal is to convert 900 specialty crop growers (almond, walnut, winegrape, tomato (row crop), melon (row crop), sweet potato (row crop), and other fruit and vegetable crops) into adopting better input methods for greater financial savings. Results and success will be measured by grower surveys. This project has strong regional support.

CDFA is continuing its partnership with the Center for Produce Safety in the evaluation and recommendation of food safety related projects. These projects represent an ongoing effort to address food safety practices and minimize outbreaks of foodborne illness with proactive research.

The 2017 SCBGP project abstracts are available online at