Follow the Farmstead offering a glimpse into central Illinois farms

SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is now accepting proposals for federal specialty crop grants.  The agency has been notified Illinois will receive more than $520,000 and instructed to begin the proposal selection process.

"This year the United States Department of Agriculture is encouraging projects that benefit under served communities and veterans, improving producer capacity with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act, developing adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers in drought-stricken regions, increasing opportunities for new and beginning farmers, developing strong local and regional food systems, protecting pollinator habitats and improving pollinator health, to name a few," said Acting Director Raymond Poe.  "These funds may lead to projects that help feed communities, encourage more participation in agriculture, or increase a farmer's profitability and productivity."

The funds will come from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program in the Farm Bill.  They are available for projects beginning in calendar year 2017, and are intended to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce and strengthen the competitiveness of our specialty crop industry. 

Projects that benefit a particular commercial product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution or individual are ineligible.  Farmers' markets, roadside stands and community-sponsored agriculture programs should consider submitting proposals to the USDA's Farmers' Market and Local Food Promotion Program.   

The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service defines specialty crops as "fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture)."

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, more than 106,000 acres of Illinois farmland are devoted to growing specialty crops on more than 3,200 farms.  Illinois is the nation's leading producer of pumpkins and horseradish, and ranks in the top ten in acreage of cantaloupes, green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn. Illinois also is home to a flourishing grape and wine market, with 450 growers utilizing 1,197 acres of Illinois farmland to support the over 100 wineries in the state.  Sales of all specialty crops in Illinois, including nursery and greenhouse sales, totaled almost $470 million in 2012.

The IDOA will accept grant proposals until May 13, 2016, at 4 p.m.  Request for proposal packets and additional information about the program can be found online at the department's website at