Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced two significant investments by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aimed at bolstering the specialty crops industry. These initiatives, the Assisting Specialty Crop Exports (ASCE) initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), seek to provide financial support to the specialty crop sector, enabling it to increase exports globally and expand into new markets. The launch of the ASCE initiative will contribute $65 million towards projects that will help the specialty crop industry enhance its global presence. By assisting with export-focused initiatives and facilitating expansion into new markets, this funding aims to strengthen the sector's economic potential. Furthermore, the ASCE initiative represents a proactive effort by the USDA to address the unique challenges and barriers faced by specialty crop producers in both the domestic and international markets. 

In addition to the ASCE initiative, the USDA is also making available $72.9 million in grant funding through the SCBGP. This program seeks to fund innovative projects that will enhance the competitiveness of the specialty crop industry. Specialty crop exports accounted for $24.6 billion in FY2023, constituting 13.8 percent of total U.S. agricultural exports. By investing in the SCBGP, the USDA aims to further drive growth within this sector and solidify the position of specialty crops as a vital component of the agricultural industry. Highlighting the importance of specialty crop producers, Secretary Vilsack affirmed that they play a critical role in nourishing both the nation and the world with nutritious fruits, nuts, vegetables, and horticulture products. However, these producers face unique challenges in the domestic market, and various barriers hinder their ability to access foreign markets for their world-class goods. The USDA's investments seek to alleviate these challenges and empower specialty crop producers to seize opportunities for growth and expansion. 

To ensure a broad reach and inclusivity, the USDA encourages applications that serve smaller farms and ranches, new and beginning farmers and ranchers, underserved producers, veteran producers, and underserved communities. Interested applicants are advised to apply directly through their respective state departments of agriculture. To facilitate this process, a list of state contacts is available on the SCBGP website. The USDA's announcement of these investments is critical when the specialty crops industry is poised for growth and increased global demand. With these substantial financial commitments, the USDA demonstrates its dedication to supporting and strengthening this vital agricultural industry sector. By empowering specialty crop producers to expand their operations, increase exports, and break down barriers, the USDA aims to optimize the economic potential of specialty crops and ensure their contribution to a thriving agricultural sector.