The Wenatchee World: Rep. Schrier visits Stemilt, announces specialty crop grant funding

January 28, 2022 — WENATCHEE — Rep. Kim Schrier (WA-08) and U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt jointly announced $72.9 million in grant funding for specialty crops during a visit to Stemilt’s headquarters Tuesday afternoon.

The grant funding goes toward marketing, education and research of specialty crops. These crops are defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops” according to the USDA.

A member of the Agriculture Committee, Schrier called the funding the “lifeblood” of Washington and said it’s “crucial to our state’s tree fruit industry.” While committee members often focus on soy and corn, Schrier said she tries to bring the conversation back to Washington’s crops.

“I’m there as the squeaky wheel saying ‘wait a minute, we’ve got specialty crops,’” she said.

Recent grant-funded research projects at Washington State University include studies on apple precision crop loads, fire blight, little cherry disease management and decision support for managing climate risks in tree fruit.

Funding is distributed to state departments of agriculture based on specialty crop acreage and production value. The state Department of Agriculture manages 84 specialty crop block grants and receives roughly $4.6 million through the program each year. About half of the money Washington receives goes to projects at WSU.

Schrier said she will ensure the block grant program is part of the discussion when the farm bill comes up in Congress next year.

The funding is provided through the USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Since 2006, the program has invested more than $953 million in 11,000 projects across the country.

“It’s all about partnership. It’s all about what’s best and how to best serve communities,” Moffitt said.

Moffitt said partnering with research universities like WSU is a key part of the program.

In addition to Schrier and Moffitt, representatives from the state Department of Agriculture, WSU Wenatchee Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center and Stemilt Growers were on hand. Tuesday also featured a closed-door, round table discussion with Schrier, Moffitt and specialty growers from the 8th District and a tour of Stemilt’s packing facility.

For information on eligibility for the grant program, go to Applications that support small farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged producers, veteran producers or underserved communities are encouraged. The deadline to apply is May 3.