Grants will open new markets for fresh produce in Illinois

86503268The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) is accepting applications for federal specialty crop grants. The funds from the USDA are intended to strengthen the com­petitiveness of the state’s specialty crop industry.

“Expanding access to nutritious, homegrown Illinois food is one of my top priorities,” Agriculture Director Bob Flider said. “If we could increase local food purchases to just 10 percent of our grocery bill, it would generate more than 20 billion dollars in new economic activity every year, create thousands of jobs in the farming and food industries and revitalize both rural and urban communities.”

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 a 2010 Illinois Specialty Crop Survey, more than 101,000 acres of Illinois farmland are devoted to growing specialty crops, producing nearly $392 million in annual sales for Illinois farmers.

Nationally, Illinois ranks first for its pumpkin production and in the top ten in the production of specialty crops such as asparagus, cauliflower, peas and lima beans.

The IDOA will accept grant ­proposals until April 15, 2013. Request for Proposal packets can be found online at or by ­contacting Delayne Reeves. She can be reached by phone at (217) 524-9129 or by e-mail at