Montana growers and researchers are advancing the state’s specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables, peas, lentils, and horticulture and nursery crops, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) Program. As a result, many consumers are finding it easier than ever to enjoy Montana-grown foods.
“Thanks to the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, we have the potential to benefit producers and consumers in the state. We are able to advance everyone’s interests by helping producers get products on the shelf that state consumers are demanding,” says Jim Auer, who manages the SCBG Program for the Montana Department of Agriculture (MDA).
Program applicants must submit a grant proposal to the MDA that identifies a challenge facing specialty crop growers in the state and how the grant funding will help them to address that challenge. Proposals are required to benefit more than one commercial product, organization or individual.
“Projects receiving grant funding need to show that they will enhance the competitiveness of Montana specialty crops and have a broad impact. The important part is to enhance the state’s agriculture industry and expand domestic and foreign markets for Montana specialty crop products,” Auer says.
In the past, funds have been awarded to projects focused on assisting producers in the development of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), pest and disease control, improving variety development and enhancing efficiency of distribution systems. Grants may last up to three years and the monetary amount awarded varies per project based on the need and scope of the work being done.
During 2015, the program awarded approximately $1.2 million to applicants, with Montana State University receiving the largest amount of sub-grants: eight totaling nearly $800,000. One project that has the potential to have a huge impact on Montana agriculture supports MSU researchers studying honeybee colony health before, during and after almond pollination to determine changes in pathogen levels and colony strength.
This is critical, as many of the state’s bee colonies travel to California to pollinate almond groves in the fall. The SCBG Program has also enabled MSU researchers to formalize the propagation process for Montana-native flowers including arrowleaf balsamroot, wild bergamot, mountain hollyhock and silverleaf phacelia.
“Without a grant program like this, there are no other funding sources to support this research,” Auer says.