Governor announces specialty-crops funding

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced funding today for 18 agriculture-related projects which will promote and enhance the competitiveness of Virginia’s specialty crops. The projects resulted from the competitive grant process established by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) for the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.

“These grants represent a half-million dollar investment in Virginia’s economy that will boost economic development and create jobs in agriculture, Virginia’s largest industry,” McDonnell said. “This is a diverse group of very innovative projects that include marketing, development, research and engineering projects, all of which are designed to increase the competitiveness of specialty agricultural crops in Virginia. I congratulate these individuals, educational institutions, and organizations for advancing ideas that will help growers add value and enhance market and job creation opportunities across Virginia.”

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorized the USDA to provide funds to the states to promote specialty crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery crops. When considering grants for the USDA Specialty Crop Program, VDACS gave priority to projects that included the following activities: assisting farmers in transitioning into specialty, high value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops; increasing net farm income through high-value or value-added enterprises; finding new ways to market or to add value to specialty agricultural products; and developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.

VDACS is awarding grants totaling $513,226.81, the largest amount ever for the block grant program, for the following projects:
– Specialty Crops Cooling and Packing, Kevin Semones, Southwest Virginia Farmers Market, Hillsville
– Handling and Use of Poultry Litter Incineration Ash Byproducts as Organic Fertilizer in Fresh Market Tomato Production, Jane Corson-Lassiter, Eastern Shore Resource Conservation and Development Council, Accomac
– Performance of a Novel Solar Greenhouse Prototype, Naraine Persaud, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
– Marketing Expansion Initiative Promoting Virginia Grown Christmas Trees, Jeff Miller, Virginia Christmas Tree Growers Association, Christiansburg
– Increasing the Competitiveness of Virginia Specialty Crop and Disadvantaged Farmers through a Statewide Situational Assessment of the VA Farm-to-School Program, Matt Benson, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
– Educational Opportunities for Farm Direct Marketers and Farmers’ Markets, Cathy Belcher, Farmers Direct Marketing Association, Richmond
– Increasing the Competitiveness of Virginia Grown Strawberries , Gail Moody Milteer, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Franklin
– Beautiful Gardens Plant Breeder Workshop, Alexander Niemiera, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
– Increasing GAP Certification Readiness among Organic and Conventional Growers and Nutrition Knowledge and Consumption of Specialty Crops among Children and Adults in Southwest Virginia, Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon
– Developing, Teaching and Promoting Sustainable and Organic Growing Practices at Maple Hill Educational Farm, Marisa Vrooman, Local Food Hub Inc., Scottsville
– High Resolution Vineyard Site Suitability Mapping, Peter Sforza, Virginia Vineyards Association, Clifford
– Organic Management of Pest Predation in Commercial Production of Summer Squash, Kevin Damian, Virginia Association for Biological Farmers, Louisa
– Working Capital Grant to Develop a Broad Based Website for the Promotion of Virginia Apples, Diane Kearns, Virginia Apple Growers Association, Charlottesville
– Connecting Southwest Virginia Farmers to Institutional Buyers through Local Food Processing and Preservation, Michal Burton, Sustain Floyd, Floyd
– Expanding Markets for Virginia’s Specialty Crops, Butch Nottingham, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Onley
– Improved Management of Harlequin Bug in Cole Crops, Thomas P. Kuhar, Virginia Tech, Painter
– Stink Bug Populations, Injury and Control on Primocane-bearing Caneberries, Douglas G. Pfeiffer, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg
– Production and Marketing of High Tunnel Grown Ginger Roots In Virginia, Reza Rafie, Virginia State University, Petersburg

Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry according to a 2008 economic impact study completed by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia. The industry has an economic impact of $55 billion annually and provides more than 357,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. Virginia is a national leader in the production of tomatoes, leaf tobacco, cotton, apples, wine, turkeys, grapes, peanuts, broilers, potatoes and cabbage. Virginia also ranks ninth among all states in terms of agricultural exports with more than $2.3 billion in 2009.

For more information on specialty crops in Virginia, visit VDACS’ website at or contact VDACS’ Division of Marketing and Development at 804.786.3530.

Edited by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at

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