Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig recently announced that the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will be awarding grants to 11 Iowa organizations to help enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops grown in Iowa.  The Department received $334,269.77 through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service to support the program.

 

“Specialty crops are a very important part of Iowa agriculture as they allow farmers to diversify and give customers access to locally grown products,” Naig said. “These federal funds will support food safety, research and marketing efforts that will encourage Iowans to choose fruits, vegetables, nuts and flowers that are produced right here in our state.”

 

Iowa agricultural non-profit organizations, cooperatives, specialty crop industry associations or organizations, state departments, and producer groups were eligible to apply for funding.

 

The Department also invited public comment from specialty crop stakeholders to help identify priorities for the program and established a Review Committee to help review, evaluate, and make recommendations on which grant proposals submitted to the Department should receive funding.

 

The maximum grant award from the Department to sub-grantees is $24,000 and administrative and indirect costs are not allowed.

 

Grant funds shall be used for projects that benefit and enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops industry as a whole, and cannot be for projects that directly benefit a particular product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual.

 

“Specialty Crops” that are eligible under this program are fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.  The funds not passed through to Iowa organizations will be used by the Department to administer the grant.

 

The full list of the 11 funded projects follows here:

 

Iowa State University of Science and Technology - $23,969.00

 

Iowa State University will conduct research on evaluating several biodegradable mulch materials available in the market. Questions to be researched include: 1) Do biodegradable mulches perform equal or better than conventional mulches in Iowa growing conditions?, 2) how long do the mulches last and how effective are they during the growing season?, and 3) what is the economic feasibility of these mulches?

 

Iowa State University of Science and Technology - $23,208.00

 

Iowa State University will collaborate with an Iowa orchard to provide a climate system capable of predicting fire blight. Using commercially available disease forecasting software, project leaders will compare weather data with disease presence via plant diagnostic testing. The goal of the project is to monitor climate over two growing seasons to determine strategies to suppress disease and reduce pesticide use.

 

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach - $23,618.00

 

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Local Foods Program Team will provide training for farmers interested in expanding their production and marketing systems to include wholesale and intermediate markets. Profitability is critical to the success of local food systems and many small to mid-size farmers are looking to diversify their operations to sustain a profitable farm business model.

 

Practical Farmers of Iowa - $24,000.00

 

Beginning and advanced specialty crop farmers in Practical Farmers’ membership are always looking to improve their product quality and profitability. Working crop-by-crop and looking at other farmers’ production, harvest and packing systems has been identified as a valuable learning process that quickly provides actionable ideas. The central objective of this grant is to improve the competitiveness of specialty crops in Iowa through in-depth, crop-specific knowledge sharing among farmers at conferences, field days, and through on-farm research.

 

Lutheran Services in Iowa - $24,000.00

 

Through the project “Building on Lessons Learned: Increasing Refugee Producers’ Capacity to Teach and Train Each Other,” LSI will provide classroom, in-field and experiential trainings for farmers to improve their skills and knowledge in the areas of specialty crop production methods.

 

Iowa State University of Science and Technology - $23,149.60

 

Project leaders will compare two production systems: high tunnel-grown peaches and field-grown peaches. Peach trees in both systems were established in May 2016 using identical planting methods with the same tree spacing and row orientation. Through this project, we will determine whether growing peaches in a high tunnel is both practical and economical for Iowa farmers wishing to diversify their crops.

 

Iowa State University of Science and Technology - $23,919.00

 

Iowa State University will increase the productivity and yield of food crops grown in greenhouses and reduce the amount of energy required to heat greenhouses. The project will develop new guidelines for managing air temperature through scientifically based quantification of plant responses to reduced night temperatures and increased day temperatures. The project will also conduct computer modeling of the energy requirements of these temperature guidelines. Results will be distributed through grower meetings as well as industry and Extension publications.

 

Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development - $12,000.00

 

The Iowa Valley Resource Conservation and Development (IVRCD) project will cultivate the woody ornamental industry in Iowa. Through partnerships with farmers, the project will develop replicable production systems, outreach to florists to assess market demand, and on-farm and online-based production demonstrations to increase the adoption of this enterprise across the state.

 

Iowa State University of Science and Technology - $22,959.00

 

Iowa State University will reduce the amount of phosphorous applied to potted flowering plants and containerized annuals and perennials grown in greenhouses. The project will develop new guidelines for applying fertilizers with reduced phosphorous concentrations through scientifically based quantification of minimum phosphorous requirements. Results will be distributed through grower meetings as well as industry and Extension publications. 

 

The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation - $13,175.00

 

The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation will increase the educational material available to teach about fruit tree production (apples) in Iowa by developing the next book in a series – My Family’s Apple Farm. The book will be accompanied by educational standards-aligned lesson plans and instructional materials to provide teachers involved in educating students the resources they need to link apple production to science, social studies, and language arts curriculum.

 

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship - $96,002.00
The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship will conduct a social media marketing campaign for Iowa specialty crops focused on increasing awareness of specialty crops grown in Iowa and encouraging consumption. The campaign will target social media users by showcasing specialty crops in Iowa and educating regions of when and where to find these specialty crops.