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California leads nation in funding for specialty crops
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The United States Department of Agriculture announced funding on Monday for the 2012 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. California received more than $18 million out of the total $55 million awarded nationwide.

 The SCBGP provides grants to states to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, which are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).

 Research, marketing and nutrition proposals were solicited and selected through a competitive process. The 68 projects funded under the 2012 SCBGP reflect the diversity of California’s specialty crops across the state. This year they include, but are not limited to: the development of a quick drying method that reduces energy usage for almonds and pistachios while improving product quality and safety; customized training and counseling on trade and export needs to assist industry stakeholders; offering low-income families access to fruits and vegetables at Certified Farmers’ Markets through weight management and diabetes clinics; researching strategies for efficient nitrogen management; and researching management strategies to mitigate diseases affecting the citrus industry.

 In addition, CDFA partnered with the Center for Produce Safety in the evaluation and recommendation of food safety-related projects. These projects represent an ongoing effort to minimize outbreaks by proactive research.

 “California agriculture is known for its innovators,” said California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “We have identified projects that will take advantage of this tremendous opportunity for our researchers, educators and others in our agricultural community to improve the prospects of California’s specialty crop farmers. This block grant program is a wise investment in making our crops safer, more competitive and more accessible.”