The head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture made a stop in South Miami-Dade Thursday to announce $4.8million in federal funds to benefit Florida’s specialty crops.
The funds are part of a larger federal block grant — $66million — derived from the Farm Bill that Congress approved in February. Specialty crops are most fruits and vegetables, nuts and nursery crops, excluding “commodity crops” such as corn, soy and wheat.
“Part of it is to allow expanded market opportunities, linking producers with local markets and regional markets, linking producers with a local school, a farmers market, a food hub, and encouraging more people to consume,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
In Florida, the money will fund 34 USDA-approved projects that range from studies on sustainability and pests to public outreach.
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Among these is a partnership between Miami-Dade County and the USDA, which will aim to improve access to local crops through a marketing campaign and nutrition education.
Fourteen of the 34 projects are partnerships between the USDA and the University of Florida to conduct research statewide on tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, strawberries and other crops. The studies will tackle topics such as pests and promote environmental sustainability.
Vilsack announced the grant from the USDA Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in South Miami-Dade — a facility that studies Southeastern growing practices, along with tropical fruits and ornamental crops.
“This is a mega center. You go where specialty crops are from,” Vilsack said.
Before leaving South Florida, Vilsack was scheduled to meet with local producers to explain other sources of federal dollars derived from the Farm Bill, and to hear about issues facing growers. The Farm Bill is a five-year spending plan for food and agriculture programs; it also funds the federal food stamp program.
Follow Melhor Marie Leonor on Twitter @MelhorL