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Grants approved for state ag projects

There was good news late last week for the state's ag industry, as the USDA approved a $3.1 million grant for 20 projects in this state related to specialty crops.

Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops.

State ag officials said the grant award will fund everything from forecasting frost for the tree fruit industry ($62,000) to developing a hard cider culture in western Washington ($74,990) "that rivals the wine culture of eastern Washington."

Gov. Chris Gregoire noted, "These federal dollars will help us support our fruit and vegetable farmers' top priorities for research and marketing."

She added, "We're fighting to create jobs all across Washington, and while agriculture continues to be a bright spot for economic development, we can't take it for granted. By investing in the future of our farm economy, we're planting the seed for a bountiful harvest."

Ag projects funded

Projects in this state funded through the $3.1 million grant will also include research on:

- Sustainable cranberry production ($150,964)

- Growers' response to safe and sustainable ag practices ($172,577)

- Tracking the organic crop market ($65,162)

- Food safety ($103,246)

- Sustaining Concord grape production ($65,386)

- Studying potato parasites ($125,000)

- Training for growers and pest management advisors ($214,215)

-Managing hop powdery mildew ($250,000)

- Promoting hops in Chinese breweries ($111,413)

- Pest management on tree fruits ($170,241)

- Sanitizing soft fruits with ultraviolet lights ($78,470)

- Retail training in handling and merchandising apples ($203,900)

- Survey of grapevine plants to detect for diseases ($248,750)

- Specialty crop events and reaching out to low income shoppers through farmers markets ($69,619)

- Celebrity chef fruit promotion road show in Indonesia ($100,000)

- Improving access to schools for specialty crop producers ($112,957)

- Specialty crop direct marketing ($163,940)

- Opening markets for small, mid-sized and diversified farms ($245,537)

"These projects will help our agricultural community manage some of its most pressing needs," said state ag director Dan Newhouse, a Sunnyside-area farmer. "As we evaluated the many worthy proposals, we selected projects that were most likely to improve the profitability and viability of Washington fruit and vegetable growers."

Next steps

Project work funded by the grants is to be completed within one to three years.

The federal block grant program was designed to provide grants to states solely to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops.

Applications for a new round of specialty crop block grants for 2012 will be available later this year at www.agr.wa.gov/grants.

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