Specialty crop producers across Texas will reap the rewards of another round of funding from a USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program designed to promote and develop Texas-grown specialty crops including produce, fruits, nuts, olives, grapes and other native food crops.

The $1.8 million grant will be administered through the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) and represents the second such grant in three years designed to boost specialty crop awareness and production in Texas.

“The specialty crop funding will further improve the ability of Texas consumers to access food grown right here in Texas while giving Texas farmers access to the tools and resources needed to grow their businesses and improve the quality of their crops,” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said.

According to Staples, specialty crops, as defined by the grant, include fruits and vegetables, dried fruits, tree nuts, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. Texas ranks among the nation’s leaders in the production of many specialty crops, including citrus, onions, watermelons, pecans, and grapes.

Staples says 26 projects were selected to participate in this latest USDA Specialty Crop grant including funds to a Texas A&M (Kingsville) program to help prevent the spread of HLB (citrus greening disease) in Texas through containment measures; a Texas AgriLife Extension Service pecan screening nursery for cotton root rot resistance; funds for research and development of a rapid growth, grower-friendly field method for diagnosis of citrus greening disease and the development of simplified methods for screening of psyllids and plant tissues for HLB and Zebra Chip pathogens; and a second year of funding for alternative commercialization for specialty crops promoting stone fruit and pecans by targeting high value markets oriented to human health.

In addition, the grant funds will be used to partner with Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association to establish a series of grape-growing workshops, partner with Texas Olive Oil Council to enhance consumers’ and growers’ awareness of Texas olives, and to partner with the Texas State Florists’ Association to increase awareness of local Texas florists through a high school design competition, and increase promotion and sales of local flower shops through increased media coverage.

Also benefiting from the grant are a number of food-to-farm consumer markets, including the Brownsville Community Garden, the Dallas Farmer’s Market and the San Antonio Herb Market.

Texas Tech University will receive additional funding through the grant in support of its program to improve management practices for olive (Olea Europaea L.) oil production. The University of Houston will receive funds in support of a program to develop food safety “Best Practices” videos and workbooks for small farmers in Texas, and the Texas Wine & Grape Growers Association is being funded to stage continuing education programs for growers through a series of workshops.

Funds are being awarded to agencies and organizations who applied for inclusion in this year’s round of USDA block grant funding. Interested applicants were invited to submit their programs for consideration to the TDA based upon the following criteria:

  • Projects must demonstrate that they enhance the competitiveness of Texas’ specialty crop industry.
  • Project funds may only be used for activities benefiting specialty crops.
  • Projects must benefit more than one individual, institution or organization. Grant funds will not be awarded for projects that directly benefit or provide a profit to a single organization, institution or individual.

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorized USDA to help states enhance specialty crop competitiveness. The 26 selected projects specialize in several key areas, including: improved food safety; increased development of the specialty crops industry; increased marketing and promotion of Texas-grown produce; increased promotion and consumer awareness of the nutritional benefits of produce consumption; and increased protection of Texas specialty crops from plant pests and diseases.