Water conservation

$ 500,000 grant program will boost production of blueberry wine and other inventive uses of Maine’s special crops

Maine’s agricultural scene now has the money to become much more resilient.

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

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

Since 2002, the Global Grants Program for Specialty Crops has provided more than $ 7 million to the Maine Department of Conservation and Forestry to support the growing number of specialty crop producers selling in local and regional markets. The block grant model allows the federal government to allocate funds, but allows the agricultural agencies in each state to make local decisions about the allocation of funds.

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

“Specialty Crop Block Grants are an opportunity for Maine agriculture to shine. The department is constantly impressed with the caliber of applicants and the dynamic proposals to develop, research and strengthen various agricultural sectors within the state, ”said Nancy McBrady, director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture. rural resources of Maine DACF.

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

Meanwhile, the Maine Potato Board received $ 79,245 to improve management of potato virus Y, a disease that has taken its toll on the state’s potato crops.

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

Other beneficiaries include the Daybreak Growers Alliance, 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, to be developed agricultural equipment sharing cooperatives and increase product safety.

“This year’s Specialty Crop Block Grant recipients are representative of the forward-thinking innovation embodied in our agriculture industry,” said Amanda Beal, Commissioner of Maine DACF. “From collaborative equipment-sharing initiatives to research into cultivation practices aimed at reducing the incidence and spread of virus Y in potatoes, the Department is proud to support these producers in their efforts to develop new markets and test technologies that improve the resilience and sustainability of our production systems. “

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

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