IL Specialty Crop Block Grant Program

Illinois Department of Agriculture

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Grant amount: Up to US $100,000

Anticipated deadline: Apr 18, 2019 2:00pm PDT

Applicant type: Organizations

Funding uses: Research, Applied Project / Program

Location of project: Illinois

Location of residency: Illinois

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The Illinois Department of Agriculture has been allocated funds next federal fiscal year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. These funds will support projects that are intended to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce and strengthen the competitiveness of the state’s specialty crop industry.

Illinois currently devotes more than 100,000 acres of farmland to growing specialty crops, which produce nearly $500 million in sales for Illinois farmers. To encourage further expansion of this industry, and to take full advantage of the allocated funds, the department invites the development of projects pertaining to the following issues affecting the specialty crop industry:

  • enhancing food safety; 
  • improving the capacity of all entities in the specialty crop distribution chain to comply with the requirements of the Food Safety Modernization Act, for example, by developing:
    • “Good Agricultural "Practices,"
    • “Good Handling Practices,”
    • “Good Manufacturing Practices,” and
    • in cost-share arrangements for funding audits of such systems for small farmers, packers and processors;
  • investing in specialty crop research, including research to focus on conservation and environmental outcomes;
  • developing adaptation and mitigation strategies for farmers in drought-stricken regions of the country;
  • supporting the growth of organic specialty crops;
  • developing new and improved seed varieties and specialty crops;
  • improving pest and disease control;
  • increasing child and adult nutrition knowledge and consumption of specialty crops;
  • increasing opportunities for new and beginning farmers
  • improving efficiency and reducing costs of distribution systems;
  • protecting and improving pollinator health;
  • developing local and regional food systems; and
  • improving food access in underserved communities and among veterans.

Proposals should describe how the project potentially impacts and produces measurable outcomes for either the entire specialty crop industry or general public as opposed to a single organization, institution or individual.

Examples of Eligible Projects

  • A State requests funding to contract with a university to conduct research on the feasibility of planting, cultivating and growing a specialty crop in a particular area, the results of which can be shared with many growers throughout the State. 
  • A single grower requests funds to demonstrate the viability of organic small fruit production and partners with Cooperative Extension to publicize the working model of diversification to other regional growers. 
  • A single company requests funds to provide a viable pollination alternative to specialty crop stakeholders in the region, which currently does not have one. 
  • A non-profit organization requests funds to conduct an advertising campaign that will benefit their specialty crop members. 
  • A single farmer erects high tunnels on their property to extend the growing season of tomatoes and lettuce and conducts a field day  and farm tour to encourage other small family farmers to adopt the production methods.

You can learn more about this opportunity by visiting the funder's website.


  • To be eligible for grant funding, a proposal must solely enhance the competitiveness of Illinois-grown specialty crops in domestic or foreign markets.
    • Specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.
    • A complete list of eligible specialty crops can be found here.
  • Eligible Applicants:
    • Proposals will be accepted from:
      • non-profit organizations,
      • producer organizations,
      • government agencies,
      • universities and
      • other organizations related to Illinois’ specialty crops industry. 
    • Proposals cannot be accepted from individuals, individual producers, for-profit businesses or commercial entities unless the project is focused on research, education, demonstration or in some way benefits the entire specialty crop industry.
    • Projects must have a very strong information dissemination and outreach component where results from the project are shared with others so that others may benefit from the project.
    • Proposals that involve collaboration or partnerships between producers, industry groups, academics, or other organizations are encouraged. 
    • Applicants may cooperate with any public or private organization involving agricultural development, research, and/or marketing to enhance Illinois' specialty crop industry. 
    • If two or more individuals or organizations propose a joint project, they must submit one application as co-applicants.
  • Details about Eligible Expenses can be found here.


  • Grant funds will not be awarded for projects that solely benefit a particular commercial product or provide a benefit to a single organization, institution or individual.
    • Single organizations, institutions and individuals are encouraged to participate as project partners. 
  • Examples of Ineligible Projects:
    • A company requests grant funds to purchase starter plants or equipment used to plant, cultivate and grow a specialty crop to make a profit, or to expand production of a single business or organization. 
    • A State requests grant funds to make grants to individual specialty crop businesses or roadside stands to promote their individual business. 
    • A non-profit organization uses grant funds to purchase produce and then sells that produce to other entities either at cost or at a higher price than the purchase price while competing with other private companies that sell produce in the area.
    • A sole proprietor requests grant funds to redesign his logo in order to make his specialty crop value-added product stand out at the local farmer's market. 
    • A single specialty crop organization requests grant funds to market its organization so that it can increase its membership.
  • Details about Ineligible Expenses can be found here.