The Texas Department of Agriculture announced today Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples awarded more than $1.7 million in funding for promoting and developing Texas-grown specialty crops through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts and nursery crops.

“Our specialty crop industry is a vital part of the Texas economy, and we want to see it continue to grow,” Commissioner Staples said. “Texas producers have experienced fierce global competition for market access. TDA is using these grants to fund projects that will increase the value of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops through promotional and educational activities. These grants will help Texas producers increase their competitiveness while enhancing food safety, nutrition and plant health.”

TDA is funding 18 projects, which cover several key areas, including the following initiatives for Texas: improved produce food safety; improved health-related benefits of produce consumption; increased consumption and consumer awareness of Texas-grown produce; and increased protection of Texas specialty crops from plant pests and diseases.

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorized USDA to provide state assistance for specialty crops to enhance competitiveness through research, marketing, trade, safety, education, product development and more.

In addition to produce, Texas has the potential to expand its share of the horticulture market in the coming years. Horticulture ranks as the state’s fifth-largest agriculture industry, accounting for $1.5 billion annually or 13.6 percent of total agricultural cash receipts, with an annual direct impact of $2.9 billion on the Texas economy.

TDA will work with all project partners to develop mechanisms to measure increased sales and consumer awareness of the Texas specialty crops industry.

For more information about the Specialty Crop Block Grants, visit www.TexasAgriculture.gov.