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Idaho ag department awards $1.85 million to 16 projects

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Idaho’s specialty crop farmers stand to benefit from 16 projects recently awarded specialty crop grants by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

The ISDA will award a total of $1.85 million this year to 16 projects designed solely to help the state’s specialty crop industry.

The money is used for research, promotion and marketing activities and other projects designed to benefit specialty crop growers in Idaho.

ISDA awards money each year through its specialty crop block grant program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The program is designed to benefit specialty crops, which include vegetables, fruits, tree nuts, dried fruits, nursery and horticulture crops.

Since the program was created in 2009, the ISDA program has awarded 181 projects a total of $18.35 million.

The grant money has been especially helpful to some of Idaho’s smaller farm commissions, which are funded by growers and have limited budgets.

The Idaho Bean Commission, for example, has used specialty crop grants to help fund several research projects that seek to benefit dry bean farmers in the state.

The bean commission was awarded $102,000 this year for a project that seeks to establish field studies to find ways to use fall-planted cereal cover crops to lower weed pressure and reduce reliance on herbicides while not impacting bean plant yields.

IBC Executive Director Andi Woolf-Weibye said the grants have been extremely important to the state’s dry bean industry and have helped propel it forward by funding projects that have provided answers to some challenging agronomic issues.   

“These invaluable specialty crop grants allow smaller commodity commissions like the bean commission to be able to complete valuable research that would be near impossible for us to do all on our own,” she said. “We are incredibly thankful to be able to utilize these opportunities to help further research for the Idaho bean industry.”

The Idaho Wine Commission has also received several specialty crop grants through the ISDA program over the years that have helped promote awareness of the state’s growing wine industry both within Idaho and around the nation.

The IWC received two grants this year, including a $190,000 grant to continue to drive awareness of the Idaho wine industry.

IWC Executive Director Moya Shatz-Dolsby said one of the main focuses of this grant is to reach the recent newcomers to the state, many of whom come from other wine-producing states but don’t yet know that Idaho has its own flourishing wine industry.

Most of those newcomers have located in the Treasure Valley, which is the center of Idaho’s wine region.

“One of the things we want to focus on is reaching all those people who have moved to Idaho recently,” she said. “How do we capture all of these new people’s attention and let them know we exist and that there are wineries 10 to 15 minutes away from them?”

The wine commission was also awarded a $150,000 grant to help fund a project that seeks to determine the impacts of soil amendments on plant health and yield, soil health and populations of pests and beneficial soil fauna.

The Idaho Apple Commission received a $64,000 grant for a project that seeks to build awareness of and demand for Idaho apples through retail promotions and the use of national media and social media.

The Idaho Cherry Commission received a $20,000 grant for a project that will use social media and in-store demonstrations to drive sales of Idaho cherries.

The Idaho Hop Growers Commission was awarded a $48,000 grant for a project that seeks to create awareness of and demand for Idaho hops through tours, social media, domestic promotions and conventions.

The Idaho Nursery and Landscaping Association was awarded $136,000 to use for a project that, according to the grant application, aims to provide “marketable, superior native plant products to enhance the plant palette offered to consumers by the Idaho landscape nursery industry.”

The Idaho Potato Commission received a $160,000 grant for a project aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of fresh, frozen and dehydrated Idaho potatoes in Mexico.

Idaho Preferred, an ISDA program that helps promote Idaho agricultural products, received a $282,000 grant to continue to promote Idaho specialty crops.

Idaho State University was awarded a $130,000 grant for a research project that seeks to improve the competitiveness of Idaho potato growers by, according to the grant application, “developing and implementing technology-based methods to improve in-season potato crop pest sampling, tissue sampling and soil moisture measurement practices in Idaho….”

ISDA awarded the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee an $89,000 grant to fund a project designed to build demand and awareness of onions in Idaho and eastern Oregon through the use of social media, marketing and trade missions. Through this project, according to the grant application, the IEOCC will look for new markets and build on existing markets.

The IEOOC also received a $99,000 grant for a research project conducted in conjunction with the University of Idaho to develop tools to predict and stabilize onion yields and quality during extreme weather conditions.

Northwest Nazarene University’s Robotics Vision Lab received a $101,000 grant to improve the harvesting performance of a robotic fruit picking platform known as OrBot (orchard robot) that university researchers have developed over the past several years.

An organization called the Sunnyslope Wine Trail received a $40,000 grant to expand its advertising reach beyond its immediate location south of Caldwell, where many of the state’s wineries and vineyards are located. According to the grant application, “We will reach new consumers by using new avenues of advertising, attracting them to our winery tasting rooms.”

The University of Idaho was awarded a $145,000 grant to develop best management practices for managing bacterial rot diseases in potatoes.

The U of I also received a $96,000 grant to develop new diagnostic tools to enhance the quality and market potential of Idaho grapevines.