Here are some common questions about the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP). If you have questions that are not addressed here, please email them to Ian.Kushner@state.mn.us and Ann.Kuzj@state.mn.us. We will accept program questions until one week prior to the application due date and post all questions and answers on this page.

About the Grant

The purpose of the grant program, which was redefined as part of the 2020 application, is to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops by:

  • Leveraging efforts to market and promote specialty crops;
  • Assisting producers with research and development relevant to specialty crops;
  • Expanding availability and access to specialty crops; and
  • Addressing local, regional, and national challenges confronting specialty crop producers.

A specialty crop is defined by the USDA as “Fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture). Eligible plants must be cultivated or managed and used by people for food, medicinal purposes, and/or aesthetic gratification to be considered specialty crops. Processed products shall consist of greater than 50% of the specialty crop by weight, exclusive of added water.” The USDA lists eligible and ineligible crops on their website. Even though it’s been removed from the Controlled Substances Act, hemp is not eligible for SCBG funding because it is a fiber crop.

The amount of federal Specialty Crop funding allocated to Minnesota is based on the reported acreage of specialty crop production and sales. The USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) collects this information. However, specialty crop production is often underreported. We encourage all farms to sign up to get future surveys and censuses. (NASS defines a farm as any place that normally produces and sells $1,000 or more of agricultural products in a calendar year.)

Please refer to the Past Projects tab on our SCBG website to see previously funded projects.

In general, beekeeping projects and projects to enhance the competitiveness of honey are eligible under the SCBGP because of the pollination aspect bees play in sustaining specialty crop health, and beekeeping is considered as horticulture. Other bee products may be eligible depending on how they will be used or the purpose of the project. Bee products that are used for food or medicine are eligible. Research projects on pollination or education projects to enhance local beekeeping strategies are eligible.

Eligible Applicants

An eligible proposal needs to show to the review committee members and the MDA Commissioner that:

  • The project should result in a significant benefit to the specialty crop industry (or a segment of the industry—potatoes, for example).
  • The project has external support from specialty crop stakeholders; a stakeholder is a specialty crop grower, grower-level group, processor, or distributor. The proposal needs to list the farmer(s) or organization(s) and describe the reasons they would like you to conduct this project.
  • The project should positively affect and produce measurable outcomes for the specialty crop industry and/or the public.
  • The proposed project will not solely benefit a particular commercial product; provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual; or result in unfair competition with private companies that provide equivalent products or services (for example, increase one co-op’s sales of specialty crops at the expense of another co-op).

Private businesses, private researchers, public and private institutions of higher education, nonprofits, and units of government are eligible to apply. Though most grants under this program are awarded to universities and nonprofits, the evaluation criteria treat all entities equally, as long as they are capable of performing the proposed work.

It should be noted that projects submitted by for-profit businesses, individual producers, or commercial entities are NOT eligible for a SCBG if the grant funds will be used for projects that will start or expand a business; solely benefit a particular commercial product; provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual; or result in unfair competition with private companies that provide equivalent products or services. Applications from these entities will also be screened to make sure the project will benefit a segment of a Minnesota specialty crop industry and not just the applicant organization.

All applications will be reviewed and scored on the extent of external support from specialty crop growers, grower-level groups, processors, and distributors (stakeholders), and how the project may affect and produce measurable outcomes for the specialty crop industry segment and/or the public. These evaluation criteria are often more difficult for for-profit entities to attain. Your proposal may be strengthened by including a plan to share results with a wide audience of stakeholders and possible beneficiaries and/or collaborate or partner with a non-profit or academic organization to broaden your external support from stakeholders and/or ability to conduct outreach to collect project performance data.

We do accept applications from organizations outside of Minnesota, if the proposed project aligns with the grant program’s goals of improving the competitiveness of Minnesota’s specialty crops through research, education, or market development projects. For example, we’ve previously funded research projects with North Dakota State University involving research on potatoes grown in Minnesota because Minnesota potato producers benefited from the project.

Yes, you may submit a proposal—it can be related to the current grant, but that is not a requirement. It is relatively common for us to fund projects that build upon previously funded work.

The application includes a section of questions for proposals that are related to previously funded efforts. The things we would like to know include the objectives and outcomes of the previous project, any lessons learned from the project, how the proposed project differs from the previous project, and how the lessons learned will be incorporated into the next project. Projects that stem from previously funded SCBG projects need to address in the application whether the projects are likely to become self-sustaining and whether specialty crop stakeholders, other than those involved in the project, support the continuation of the project.

For-profit entities and food hubs have been awarded SCBG funding, as seen in the list of Past Grantees, and the program encourages projects that are designed to leverage efforts to market and promote specialty crops.

Yes. Prior to 2020, such a project would not have been eligible, but under new guidance it can be. We know, for example, that some specialty crop growers produce and market non-specialty crops (such as wild rice) through the same channels.

Submission Process

You can register through the free System Award Management (SAM) site.

Our online application portal uses character limits. We estimate 3,000 characters is equal to a page. The character limits are listed below the text box of each narrative in the online application. Spaces DO count towards the character limit.

The USDA is looking for descriptions of all support that your proposed project has from specialty crop stakeholders, including farmers and farmer organizations. Describe the specialty crop producers/farmers, producer organizations, processors and/or distributors that support this project and why each support it. If a stakeholder has provided (verbal or written) some level of support to you or a collaborator or partner, you may include those specifics in this narrative.

A thorough description of the involvement of each stakeholder in your project in the narrative box of the application is important.

The letters of support from stakeholders are not required to be submitted with your application. However, including one or more letters by stakeholders may strengthen your proposal by enabling reviewers to better gauge the level of support for your application. If your SCBG proposal is accepted by the MDA for inclusion as a project in the MDA’s SCBG application to the USDA, the stakeholder support letters will not be included or attached to the MDA’s application.

Stakeholders in the project are not necessarily beneficiaries of the project. A beneficiary is an entity that stands to benefit from the performance of the grant project activities. Examples of SCBG project beneficiaries are the attendees of a grant funded workshop who learn how to write a food safety plan; growers who learn how to detect and control a common plant disease by attending a conference presentation; or children who learn about growing, preparing, and eating specialty crops in a school program.

Stakeholders can be growers, grower-level groups, processors, and distributors that support the project by standing to benefit from it, or that are assisting the applicant/grantee set priorities, review and comment on the project, or implement the project. For the purposes of this grant, stakeholders are not the project partners or collaborators who are listed in the application.

We prefer a two-word descriptor of each beneficiary. A more detailed explanation of benefit to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers may be needed if that is a focus of your project and you do not provide support for this statement in other parts of your application.

Yes, descriptions of all stakeholders (specialty crop growers, grower associations, processors, and/or distributors) that support your project should be included in your proposal. The USDA requires descriptions of stakeholder support for each project and the MDA needs to ensure that specialty crop stakeholders support the project. Letters of support are not included in the State Plan that the MDA submits to the USDA.

This year the work plan is built into the budget narratives for the Personnel and the Contractors/consultants budget categories. In part B of Personnel: “For each individual listed in Part A, describe the activities to be completed by name/title, including approximately when the activities will occur.” For the second bullet under Contractual Justification & Work Plan: “For each of your real or anticipated contractors listed above, provide a description of the project activities each will accomplish to meet the objectives and outcomes of the project. Include timelines for each activity.”

Only one outcome is required, but any and all applicable outcomes can be included in your proposal. If an outcome is used, at least one indicator/sub-indicator listed within that outcome must also be used, as well as the method of data collection described for each indicator/sub-indicator. Outcomes and indicators need to be reported in each annual report and the final performance report.

The Project-Specific indicator listed within a project is submitted with Minnesota’s State Plan when we submit our application to the USDA. The approval would come when the USDA reviews and accepts our State Plan.

The USDA has stressed the importance of ensuring that proposal outcomes fit within the established outcomes listed in the RFP.

Yes to both questions.

Yes, the whole application and all uploaded documents are compiled and sent to the reviewers for evaluation and scoring.

You may submit related proposals to other state departments of agriculture, but it is important that they don’t contain any of the same project activities or costs as any application submitted to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

We recommend combining all the trips for one type of activity into one line in the travel table and including the estimated total travel miles to all locations. Further details, including specific or general locations and any equations used to estimate total miles, can be provided in the “travel justification” section. If exact locations are not yet known, a rough estimate based on region (“SE Minnesota,” for example) can be provided.

A: Yes; but the project needs to end by September 29, 2025.

Documentation

Yes, under the Procurement Standards section of Title 2 of the Code of Federal Regulations (2 CFR Part 200.317 to 200.326), grant recipients must have documented policies and processes for purchasing goods and services with federal (SCBG) funding. Additionally, your organization must follow the same policies and procedures for procurements from non-federal sources.

To illustrate an example, the State of Minnesota’s contracting and bidding requirements for non-governmental organization grantees are described in clause 4.3 of the Competitive Grant Agreement for Non-Governmental Organizations (Microsoft Word, updated June 2020). These should conform to most Federal law and standards for most non-University or government grantee organizations for typical SCBG grant project procurement purchases.

The State of Minnesota does not require financial documentation to be submitted by a for-profit business as part of the application process. We may, however, request a recent balance sheet to perform a financial review before making final award recommendations to the Commissioner.

All applicants must obtain a DUNS number and be registered with the System for Award Management (keep the e-mail confirmation) as described in the RFP.

Timeline, Review, and Scoring

The funding priorities are of equal importance. Using the evaluation criteria listed in the RFP, points will be awarded to projects according to how well the application addresses at least one of the funding priorities.

The Evaluation Criteria section of the RFP includes scoring for industry support by external stakeholders. There is merit in both kinds of letters of support. Ultimately, a letter that tells a more compelling story about the impact/value of your project will make a bigger difference in the scoring process, no matter the author.

There are no exclusions on who may be the beneficiary of a specialty crop block grant as long as the grant fulfills the program’s purpose of enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops in Minnesota. However, projects that can demonstrate a benefit to beginning farmers (defined as an individual or entity that has not operated a farm or ranch for more than 10 years and substantially participates in the operation) can receive up to two additional points during the scoring process. Projects that benefit Emerging Farmers, including Native American producers, immigrant farmers, farmers of color, and women, can receive up to five additional points.

Eligible Costs

Yes, as long as the project involves and primarily benefits growers/producers that reside in Minnesota and will enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops grown in Minnesota. Any entities outside of Minnesota that are involved in a grant-funded project must be able to account for the grant-related work separately from their other activities.

All costs covered by this grant program must be direct costs and be able to be supported by your organization’s written procedures. The personnel costs claimed in the budget section of the application cannot normally be included in your organization's overhead costs or included in calculating your organization's indirect cost rate. Direct costs for staff time spent doing a project’s administrative work, like arranging project activities (such as a workshop or outreach event) may be eligible for SCBG funding. Labor costs must be based upon salaries earned and time worked solely on the awarded project, plus be backed by documentation (timesheets and payroll reports). These can be estimated in the Personnel budget section of the application.

No—grant funds cannot be used for business start-up or expansion costs. SCBG projects proposed by individual producers, for-profit businesses, or commercial entities need to demonstrate a significant benefit to a segment of the specialty crop industry, and not just the applicant or partner organization.

Yes, subawards and subcontracts by Minnesota SCBG grantees are allowable and have been a part of previously approved projects.

In your application, describe the services or activities that the external partner would provide and explain how these are needed to achieve the objectives or outcomes of the grant project. Fixed amount subawards are allowable if approved by us and then included and approved as part of our application to the USDA.

If approved by the USDA, your organization would also need to pass/enforce the AMS-USDA Grant Terms and Conditions (PDF) down to the industry partner in their sub-award contract or agreement.