Agriculture Commissioner Walter Whitcomb announced that Maine is partnering with USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to invest $562,583.50 to support Maine Specialty Crop Producers. Maine will conduct 10 initiatives to strengthen and enhance Maine specialty crops, including: potatoes, wild blueberries, organic vegetables, strawberries, hops and horticultural crops. Funds will also help farmers and producers meet new federal food safety rules.

“These investments strengthen Maine specialty crops, benefiting farmers and consumers,” said Commissioner Walt Whitcomb. “Selected projects will help growers make food safety enhancements, solve research needs for better pest management, and make informed decisions that will increase the profitability and sustainability of Maine agriculture. Historically, these investments have strengthened markets for specialty crops and helped develop new economic opportunities, including, recently, a local hops industry to support Maine’s craft beer industry.”

Maine’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program partnership initiatives for fiscal year 2015:

  • AgMatters, LLC – will educate specialty crop growers about changes to produce safety rules as a result of the Food Safety Modernization Act and help them to successfully complete their specific food safety audit by providing technical assistance and food safety training for specialty crop producers.
  • AgMatters, LLC – will assist Maine specialty crop growers as they undertake the task of preparing for Good Agricultural Practices/Good Handling Practices and Produce Harmonized Good Agricultural Practices food safety certifications through conducting individual work sessions via phone, email or in person.
  • Maine Landscape & Nursery Association – will increase public awareness of, interest in, and support for horticultural specialty crops within the state of Maine through building and launching a Plant Something website for Maine and social media campaign.
  • Maine Potato Board, in collaboration with the University of Maine – will work to ensure an adequate response to the pest-related hazards confronting potato growers by providing support for growers through field monitoring, disease forecasting, and distribution of educational materials associated with integrated pest management.
  • University of Maine – will work to address pollinator safety within the confines of sound and effective pest management of significant insect pests and diseases to Maine’s fruit industry through conducting experiments and analyzing received data.
  • Maine Wild Blueberry Commission, in collaboration with the University of Maine – will work to decrease crop losses and increase revenues for wild blueberry growers by enhancing the integrated pest management (IPM) program for control of mummy berry and Botrytis blight through expansion of weather stations that provide forecasts on infection risk; developing a biological model of Monilinia vaccinii-corymbosi, the fungus which causes mummy berry disease; and investigating additional control materials to build fungicide resistance management into the mummy berry IPM system.
  • Wild Blueberry Commission – will work to develop and implement weed management as part of an IPM program for preventing weed control resistance in Maine wild blueberry fields through evaluating herbicides with different modes of action and identifying the best material and timing that will effectively control resistant weed species.
  • Maine Potato Board – will enable potato growers to expand current rotation lengths while directly and indirectly improving potato yields by identifying potential crops that could be grown in conjunction with potatoes that would allow producers improved economic returns.
  • University of Maine research and extension faculty will evaluate plant characteristics, determine flavoring and brewing characteristics of different hops varieties, develop resource materials for farmers and determine unique qualities and appropriate use of hops varieties through establishing a replicated trial of hops varieties.
  • Maine Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at the University of Maine – will focus on the development of cost effective strategies for deploying environmentally sound pest management tools in organic vegetable and strawberry production in Maine through conducting a research project.