The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship today announced that 11 projects in Iowa have been selected to receive grant funding to help enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. The Department received $282,032 through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to support the program.

“The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has supported a wide variety of projects here in Iowa in the past several years to promote locally grown products and we are excited to get another round of funding that will support food safety, research and marketing efforts. Specialty crops are a very important part of Iowa agriculture as they allow farmers to diversify and give customers access to local foods and other products,” said Iowa Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

Iowa agricultural nonprofit organizations, cooperatives, specialty crop industry associations or organizations, and producer groups were eligible to apply for funding.

The Department also invited public comment from specialty crop stakeholders to help identify priorities for the program and established a Review Committee to help review, evaluate, and make recommendations on which grant proposals submitted to the Department should receive funding.

The maximum grant award from the Department to sub-grantees is $24,000 and administrative and indirect costs are not allowed.

Grant funds shall be used for projects that benefit and enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops industry as a whole, and cannot be for projects that directly benefit a particular product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual.

“Specialty Crops” that are eligible under this program are fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. The funds not passed through to Iowa organizations will be used by the Department to administer the grant.

A partial list of the funded projects follows here:

Lutheran Services in Iowa - $24,000

This project will provide refugees specialty crop producer training with a focus on food safety, organic production, and crop planning. Lutheran Services in Iowa will provide classroom, in-field, and experiential trainings for farmers to improve their skills and knowledge in these fields.

Iowa State University of Science and Technology - $23,750

Iowa State University will work to improve productivity and expand production of specialty leafy greens in hydroponic systems by developing species-specific requirements for fertilizing during seedling production and nutrient solution for production in hydroponic system through scientifically based quantification of mineral nutrient requirements.

Iowa State University of Science and Technology- $23,968

Iowa State University will conduct research on evaluating season extension strategies for production of spring vegetable crops. The research will study different row cover materials that can be utilized: 1) to extend growing season and 2) as a sustainable pest management tool. Broccoli will be used as a test crop and data will be collected on several crop growth parameters and environmental factors such as temperature, relative humidity, etc.

Practical Farmers of Iowa - $24,000

Many specialty crop farmers in Practical Farmers’ membership are asking for training on machinery and equipment for specialty crop production, and see this knowledge gap as a barrier to scaling up their production. The central objective of this grant is to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Iowa through farmer-to-farmer education on machinery and equipment.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Local Foods Program - $24,000

This program will explore barriers that are restricting food access, and provide guidance, partnerships, technical assistance, support and incentives to help educate area Iowa schools on how to find solutions. Not only will this result in increased purchases from specialty crop growers, but the evaluation component will provide a Toolkit that can be a model for other schools in their efforts to purchase healthy, local foods.