Federal specialty crop grants to fund 12 Illinois programs

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois will receive $691,000 in federal funds to expand the availability of locally grown produce.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture announced last week that money will be divided among 12 projects .

Fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops are among those that qualify for the program.

Illinois is the nation’s largest producer of pumpkins and horseradish. It ranks in the top ten states in acreage devoted to cantaloupes, green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn.

Projects to be funded include improving milkweed varieties for butterflies’ benefit; crop pest-detection; expanding hops farming and improved “high-tunnel” farming in which greenhouses cover soil-grown crop.

Other projects will study food shelf-life; safety of food going to farmers’ markets; crop grafting and developing online information to educate consu