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Expanding specialty crops markets and exports

Yesterday, the USDA announced two new specialty crop initiatives to increase international markets and bolster competitiveness for U.S. growers.

Brad Haire

January 31, 2024

2 Min Read
Pepper plants grow on a south Georgia vegetable farm.Brad Haire

Yesterday, the USDA announced two new specialty crop initiatives to increase international markets and bolster competitiveness for U.S. growers.

Assisting Specialty Crop Exports, ASCE, brings $65 million for projects to help the specialty crop sector increase global exports and expand to new markets, according to a Jan. 30 USDA statement.

The agency also promised $72.9 million in funding through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which was created to spark innovative projects to boost the competitiveness of an expanding specialty crop sector. Specialty crop exports totaled $24.6 billion in FY2023, or 14% 13.8 of total U.S. agricultural exports, according to USDA.

Chris Butts is the executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, or GFVGA.

“GFVGA is pleased to see USDA engage on issues impacting specialty crops growers. The block grant program enables effective promotion, marketing and educational opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach for Georgia growers,” Butts told Southeast Farm Press Jan. 30, following the USDA announcement.

“Growers are constantly in search of new markets for their products, but the reality is that southeast fruit and vegetable growers are more concerned with cheap imports that are pushing further into our marketing windows and driving down prices to a level that is unsustainable. To protect our ability to feed our nation, these policies and programs must level the playing field for American producers,” Butts said.

“Specialty crop producers feed our nation and the world with nutritious fruits, nuts, and vegetables and supply our communities with horticulture products. Yet, they have unique challenges and opportunities to compete in the domestic market and a vast array of barriers that prevent their world-class products from entering foreign markets,” said Tom Vilsack, U.S. agriculture secretary, in the Jan. 30 statement. “The Biden-Harris Administration is making these significant investments to maintain, open, and grow markets and reduce and eliminate trade barriers for U.S. specialty crop producers, which in turn will support rural communities, enhance our competitive edge, and help establish lifelong consumers for U.S. food and agricultural products across the world.”

The ASCE initiative will be funded through USDA’s new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program, which was created in October 2023. It will support projects to advance U.S. specialty crop exports by expanding domestic understanding of foreign food safety systems and foreign understanding of U.S. food safety systems. The initiative will collect information needed for export certification and packaging to meet other countries' new requirements, according to the Jan. 30 statement.

USDA identified three workstreams to assist specialty crop exporters: commodity-specific trade and regulatory capacity building; plastics and packaging solutions; and funding of a maximum residue limits database.

Through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, also known as AMS, will issue noncompetitive grants to state departments of agriculture or equivalent in the 50 States to fund projects to increase competitiveness of specialty crops and support growers through marketing, education and research.

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