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Specialty crops program grants up to $30,000 to Iowans

Iowa's specialty crops program is giving up to $30,000 in grants to various state agricultural groups to fund research and farming of specialty crops.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — The state of Iowa is working with farmers and organizations to encourage specialty crop growth.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture is opening applications for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Applicants can receive up to $30,000 to help with specialty crop growth, which includes a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, herbs, spices and more.

Over $334,000 was awarded in 2022 to several farming groups, institutes and universities.

The awards are not just for simply growing specialty crops, but to fund research, educate the community and help producers sustainably farm these products at a profit.

"We're really excited about all the focus and resources that are being [put] on developing local markets for Iowa farmers - which of course ultimately benefits Iowa consumers because they get more choices," Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said.

A newer core focus of the grant program is to boost production methods for these crops.

"We can grow a lot of things in the state of Iowa, but getting that processed in a package, or prepared in a way that a school district could use in their lunch program, or that a restaurant would like to then incorporate onto a menu - that sometimes requires processing that our farmers don't have," Sec. Naig said.

The program has also benefited research from colleges like Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

Previous research includes things like managing soil pH levels for blueberry farming, use of sulfur dioxide to preserve Iowa wine better, irrigation and sensor technology for sustainable water management and more.

"That's where some of those research dollars can help folks from an agronomic standpoint, from a growing standpoint," Sec. Naig said. "'How do I manage disease around a plant or a fungus?' or something like that - they can then be better stewards of that production and get greater yields which drives profitability."

Applications are open until Mar. 10, 2023. More information is available on the Iowa Department of Agriculture website, and a list of acceptable specialty crops is available here.

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