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It's Open Season for Specialty Crop Grants

CDFA plans application workshops, wine and grape projects encouraged

by Jane Firstenfeld
CDFA is holding workshops on submitting a specialty Specialty Crop Block Grant application. One successful example recently came from Solano Grown, which was awarded $55.120 to expand its online farmers market.
Sacramento, Calif.—In recent years, California’s grape and wine industry has been the beneficiary of federal funding through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program administered by the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA), which backs proposals that “solely enhance the competitiveness of California specialty crops” including wine grapes. The money comes to California (and other states) through the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of the federal Farm Bill.

The current U.S. Congress has yet to pass a Farm Bill, but CDFA is moving ahead with the process for 2014. “We are proceeding with the grant program in the hope that there will be Farm Bill funding at some point,” CDFA public affairs director Steve Lyle told Wines & Vines.

CDFA is staging a series of workshops around the state during the coming weeks—as well as a webinar on Nov. 15—to guide hopefuls through the intricacies of submitting a successful application. See details here.

Winning strategies
The Regents of the University of California, Davis, are the clear winners in terms of number and amounts of grants, according to the CDFA’s list of recent grant recipients. Still, smaller organizations also have won grants: Last year, with support from the Sonoma County Winegrowers, Sonoma County Vintners, the California Association of Winegrape Growers and the California Wine Institute, the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance (SVVGA) was awarded $357,000 to fund its proposal, “Recovering Returns on Sonoma Valley AVA Winegrapes.”
Described in an abstract, “The economy has hurt returns as consumers switch to non-AVA labeled wines; the average wine grape prices for Sonoma Valley dropped 6.19% since 2009 due to lower wine prices. Research shows consumers pay more if they see value; a 2009 Wine Opinions study shows Sonoma Valley wines are well valued in the wine community, but there is a major need to promote this to consumers and the trade. SVVA spent ~$50,000 on research and consulting to define the issue and develop messaging, target audiences, creative materials and approaches; SVVA seeks assistance to sell more wine as Sonoma Valley AVA labeled rather than bulk including website redesign, social media and email campaigns, and print and online ads.”

Announcing the grant in Sept. 2013, SVVA executive director Maureen Cottingham stated: “Receiving this grant is a huge victory for our vintners, winegrowers and tourism partners as we work to build and share the passionate story of Sonoma Valley. The foundation has been set with the Sonoma Valley brand that was launched in early 2013 and now this grant will enable us to execute on a national platform.”

Meanwhile, Solano Grown, a partnership of Solano County farmers and ranchers committed to producing and marketing an array of high-quality agricultural products, was awarded $55,120 to expand its “Solano Grown Online Farmer’s Market.” The project is aimed at leveraging promotional activities by providing an online marketplace where consumers can purchase products directly.

CDFA also got a piece of the pie: It collected $285,896 for research into a newly invasive pest in California vineyards and other crops. “Biological Control of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug” aims to provide a sustainable, cost-effective management tool to control the BMSB, which pierces fruit causing discoloration and making it unmarketable. “State-wide surveys will include early detection of BMSB, their spread, host plant associations and any natural enemies found attacking them. CDFA will release newly discovered parasitoids from China, once host range tests at UC Riverside are completed.”

You be the judge
On Monday, the CDFA issued a call for “individuals with interest and expertise in the agricultural sector” to become part of the 2014 Specialty Crop Block Grant Technical Review Committee. Members will review, evaluate and make recommendations on submitted proposals.

The committee schedule begins in January and continues through May. Potential members should email Leslie Sullivan at before Dec. 2, 2013, and include a letter of interest, short biography and statement of qualifications.

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