$500,000 grant program will spur blueberry wine production and other inventive uses for Maine specialty crops

Maine’s farming scene now has the cash to become much more resilient.

On Monday, the Mills administration awarded a total of $492,039 to seven Maine organizations to invest in innovative technologies and develop new markets for Maine’s specialty crops, such as wild blueberries and potatoes.

These grants were awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program, a competitive annual grant program that awards funds for market research, market promotion, and new technologies to benefit growers. specialty crops – those that are not grown to a commodity. scale, such as corn and soybeans, but rather fruits, vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops such as cut flowers.

Since 2002, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has awarded more than $7 million to the Maine Department of Conservation and Forestry to support the growing number of specialty crop growers selling in local and regional markets. The block grant model allows the federal government to allocate funds, but allows state agricultural agencies to make local decisions on the allocation of funds.

Each year, Maine’s DACF administers the grants after they are submitted to the USDA for review.

“The block grants for specialty crops are an opportunity for Maine agriculture to shine. The Department is consistently impressed with the caliber of applicants and aggressive proposals to expand, research and strengthen various agricultural sectors within the state,” said Nancy McBrady, Director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources of Maine DACF.

The seven projects that received specialty crop block grants this year are diverse. Blue Barn LLC received $62,800 to develop wild blueberry sparkling wine supply, demand and infrastructure, while the University of Maine received $99,894 – the largest of the grants – to explore tools to strengthen the resistance of wild blueberries to global warming.

Meanwhile, the Maine Potato Board received $79,245 to improve the management of potato virus Y, a disease that has wreaked havoc on potato crops in the state.

Not all beneficiaries grow food either. The Maine Flower Collective received $90,200 to improve the competitiveness of Maine’s cut flower industry.

Other recipients include the Daybreak Growers Alliance, the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association for projects to expand the marketing and distribution of specialty crops, develop cooperatives for sharing agricultural equipment and improving product safety.

“The recipients of this year’s Specialty Crops Block Grants are representative of the forward-thinking innovation that our agricultural sector embodies,” said Maine DACF Commissioner Amanda Beal. “From collaborative equipment-sharing initiatives to researching cultural practices to reduce the incidence and spread of potato virus Y, the Department is proud to support these growers in their efforts to develop new markets and test technologies that improve the resilience and sustainability of our production systems. ”

Maine’s DACF will also apply $32,000 to develop a digital library to deliver talks, workshops and educational content to Maine specialty crop growers and develop a campaign to promote the sale of Maine specialty crop fruits and vegetables. Maine throughout New England.

The next application period for the Specialty Crops Block Grant will be in late winter or early spring 2022.

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