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Specialty crop grant funding up for grabs for Michigan interests

LANSING, Mich. — State officials have announced a request for proposals through the federal Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, a federal initiative through the USDA’s Marketing Services division.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) said the program is designed to enhance the competitiveness of Michigan’s specialty crops; grant funding is contingent on the availability of federal funds.

MDARD must be in receipt of all proposals no later than 3 p.m. on Feb. 15, and grants have a maximum award of $100,000. Acceptable projects include anything related to promotion, marketing, research, nutrition, trade enhancement, food safety, food security, plant health programs, education, logistics, product development and good agricultural practices and other activities.

Last year there were 17 parties who received just over $1.5 million altogether. One of the recipients was the Michigan Apple Committee (MAC), which was granted $100,000 for a project titled Enhancing Competitiveness of Michigan Apples through Consumer Education Online and in Print.

“We use a lot of the grant for marketing to increase the competitiveness of the product in the marketplace,” explained Diane Smith, MAC executive director. “We also use a portion of the grant to do market research, but most is for marketing.”

Most of MAC’s marketing efforts take place online through social media, she said. The state-regulated commodity group for apple growers uses Instagram and Facebook in particular to heighten the visibility of Michigan apples for consumers. Smith said the group also uses Google AdWords, a Google proprietary tool that can help a company or organization’s product or service show up on Internet searches.

She added the specialty crop grant program is one of the few opportunities for the commodity group to get a grant.

Another group getting a grant last year was the Michigan Cherry Committee, in the amount of $99,949 for a project to address the problem of spotted wing drosophila, an important invasive pest that attacks a wide range of soft-skinned fruits, including cherries. According to a project summary, the effort will seek to “refine trap methodology to improve on-farm management.”

Other groups receiving grants in 2017 were Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology, Cherry Marketing Institute, Cherry Central, Eastern Market Corp., Hop Growers of Michigan, Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board and several others. According to MDARD, funding priority will be given to projects with a focus on market expansion and access, research, and training and education.

Eligible applicants include nonprofits, local, state and federal government entities, as well as for-profit organizations. Any organization must be a legal entity recognized by the IRS and applicants must either reside in or conduct business or organizational activities in Michigan.

Applicants should demonstrate how the project will potentially produce measurable impacts for the specialty crop industry as a whole and not for the exclusive benefit to a specific product, single organization, institution, or individual, according to MDARD.

For more information about the program, an application form or submission criteria, visit