North Dakota getting $2.3 million to boost specialty crops, after getting $3.1 million in 2014

North Dakota will see another large infusion of federal money this year to boost the development of specialty crops in a state that's already among the nation's leading producers of dry peas, lentils, honey and confection sunflowers.

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The state will dole out $2.3 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to farmers, food companies and researchers involved in the production and processing of the lesser-known crops, state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said late last month. The deadline for grant applications is April 30.

Last year, the state received $3.1 million, thanks to a funding increase that resulted from an emphasis on specialty crops in the new federal farm bill signed into law last February. As a comparison, the state in 2013 received less than $500,000.

USDA defines specialty crops as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops. Specialty crops grown commercially in North Dakota include dry beans, dry peas, lentils, potatoes, confection sunflowers, grapes, honey and various vegetables. The state leads the nation in the production of honey; is second in confection sunflowers, lentils, and dry peas and beans; and fourth in potatoes. Specialty crop cash receipts in North Dakota totaled slightly more than $1 billion in both 2012 and 2013.

A large portion of last year's grant money went to North Dakota State University for two dozen different research projects. Several other groups and agencies also got money, including the state Agriculture Department, state Trade Office, National Sunflower Association, Northern Plains Sustainable Agriculture Society and Dakota Prairies Resource Conservation and Development Council.

The Northern Pulse Growers Association — which represents regional dry pea, lentil, chickpea, lupin and fava bean growers — has directly received a total of about $400,000 to support such efforts as educational programs and publications, according to Executive Director Shannon Berndt.

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"The research community has also received funding for the pulse industry to look at agronomic issues affecting producers," she said. "This has been a fantastic program."

The state Agriculture Department also used some of the grant money to expand its Local Foods Initiative, which promotes the production, marketing and consumption of locally grown foods. The department is holding public "listening sessions" Wednesday in Casselton and April 22 in Bismarck to further that effort.

"The North Dakota Department of Agriculture is very interested in what local producers have to say," Goehring said in a statement. "Their valuable input will help direct the development of future local foods programs."

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