By SHELLY STRAUTZ-SPRINGBORN
LANSING, Mich. — Michigan agriculture will get a $1.3 million boost to create, enhance or expand agriculture development ventures across the state.
A variety of projects were recently awarded funding through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which granted $1.1 million to 21 proposals throughout the state. The remaining $200,000 was allocated to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s (MDARD) domestic and international programs, as well as grant administrative costs.
“Michigan’s diverse food and agriculture sector continues to play a critical role in our economic reinvention, and these grants help fuel the continued development and expansion of specialty crop production in our state,” said MDARD Director Jamie Clover Adams.
“The response for these competitive grants was overwhelming and only illustrates the industry’s commitment to innovative processing practices and strengthening Michigan’s impact in the global marketplace.”
The Michigan Bean Commission was awarded $75,000 for research on color retention in processed black beans and the evaluation of methods and new fungicides to control white mold disease in dry beans.
Greg Varner, research director with the Michigan Dry Bean Research Board, said the funding will allow a team of researchers to evaluate the impact of a black bean desiccant system applied at varying stages of bean development, assessing suitable dry bean cultivars and breeding lines for black color retention.
“A lot of our processors are telling the industry that processed black beans are not retaining their black color now as they did in the 1990s or early 2000s,” he said. “We are seeking to find out why. Our big measurable outcome is, what is making the color of black beans leach out of the beans during the process that did not occur before?”
Varner said some variety trials also will be conducted.
The state’s Christmas tree industry will also benefit from a $75,000 award. Marsha Gray, executive director of the Michigan Christmas Tree Assoc. (MCTA), said the grant will support the “Make it a Real Michigan Christmas” project for the second year in a row. The project is meant to encourage the purchase of live Michigan-grown poinsettias and real Michigan-grown Christmas trees.
“The project will educate consumers using the key message that buying real products helps preserve or build Christmas traditions, while being an economically, emotionally and ecologically beneficial choice,” Gray said.
“The goal of the campaign is to increase consumer awareness regarding the role Michigan plays in the production of trees and poinsettias, the negative environmental implications of buying artificial trees and poinsettias, the emotional benefits of real flowers and plants in the home, as well as the economic contribution these two iconic symbols of Christmas made in Michigan.”
According to Gray, a three-way partnership among the Michigan Floriculture Growers Council, the Michigan Floral Assoc. and the MCTA is key to the program’s success. In addition, a new partnership this year with the Detroit Lions will bring Ford Field visitors the sights and smells of a Michigan Christmas tree, along with fresh Michigan poinsettia plants to the 132 Detroit Lions suite holders.
Other features of the program include further development of the www.RealMichiganChristmas.com website, public and media relations activities and point-of-purchase materials such as banners, bench cards and stickers for participating growers and retailers.
Two grants totaling $62,260 were awarded to the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Assoc. for weed control and marketing research and activities. Executive Director Amy Frankmann said the weed control research will identify ways to reduce weed control costs in Michigan nursery crops.
“In the long run, it will save our growers money and enhance profitability,” she explained.
A $10,000 allocation will be used for marketing efforts to increase sales opportunities, increase distribution of crops and assist Michigan’s nursery growers in their marketing efforts by providing an online product and services catalog, a locator for plants and their sources and an inspiration gallery of videos and photos.
Other grant recipients included $56,555 to Lakeshore Environmental, Inc.; $75,000 to the Michigan Apple Committee; $29,975 to the Michigan Asparagus Industry Development Program; $45,500 to the Michigan Farm Bureau; $51,390 to the Michigan Food and Farming Systems; $22,032 to the Michigan Onion Committee; $40,000 to the Michigan Potato Industry Commission; $300,600 to Michigan State University to fund six projects; and $52,993 to the Michigan Vegetable Council.
Overall, the MDARD received 39 grant proposals totaling $2.1 million. Grant applications were evaluated, scored and ranked by a Joint Evaluation Committee composed of MDARD and industry representatives not directly involved with any grant proposals.