Questions about the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) are listed below. If you have questions that are not addressed in the FAQ, please email your question to ann.kuzj@state.mn.us. Questions and answers will be added to the page as they are received until one week prior to the application submission date.

What site should I use to obtain a SAM registration?
The free, government System Award Management registration site is: https://www.sam.gov/SAM/. An alternative link is: https://www.sam.gov/SAM/pages/public/index.jsf.

Can I assume that the listed funding priority topics are of equal importance or does the order in which they appear in the list indicate their relative priority?
The funding priorities are of equal importance. Note that per the evaluation criteria listed in the Request for Proposals (RFP), points will be awarded to projects according to how well the application addresses at least one of the funding priorities.

What are the word limits for each section?
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.

I am representing a for-profit company that would like to research an idea that will benefit us and other leafy green vegetable growers in Minnesota. What determines whether our application and project is eligible or not for a Specialty Crop Grant?
Projects submitted by for-profit businesses, individual producers, or commercial entities are not eligible for a SCB Grant if 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.

The description here seems rather oriented around universities and nonprofit organizations. I am a private researcher and entrepreneur organized as a sole proprietorship. Does that put me at a disadvantage?
No, it does not. Per the Evaluation Criteria, no extra points are awarded based on the applicant’s organization status.

I was wondering if I could get a summary of previously funded specialty crop programs or any examples of programs that have been approved in the past.
Please refer to the Past Projects tab on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) SCBG website.

Are stakeholders different from beneficiaries?
Stakeholders in the project are not necessarily beneficiaries of the project. Beneficiaries are an entity that stands to benefit from the performance of the grant project activities. Examples of specialty crop grant project beneficiaries are: the attendees of a grant funded workshop that learn how to write a food safety plan; potato growers that learn how to detect and control a common disease of potato from 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 this grant, stakeholders are not the project partners or collaborators that are listed in the application.

Is just a 2 word descriptor preferred as suggested in the RFP, or a full description of the beneficiaries?
We are asking for just a two word descriptor of each beneficiary. A more detailed explanation of benefit to socially disadvantaged and beginning farmers may be needed if you check the box that your project is solely benefiting socially disadvantaged or beginning farmers and you do not provide support for this statement in other parts of your application.

If stakeholders not directly involved in the project are submitting letters of support, should they also be described in the application?
Yes; only the descriptions of stakeholders (specialty crop growers, grower organizations, processors, and/or distributors) that support you in preparing or conducting this project will be included in the MDA State Plan that is submitted to the USDA for our SCBG. The USDA requires descriptions of stakeholder support for each project and the MDA needs to ensure that specialty crop stakeholders, other than the applicant, individuals, and organizations directly involved in the conduct of the project, support the continuation of a previously funded project.

In the RFP under 'External Project Support' the second clear bullet down says 'describe the specialty crop stakeholders who support the project and why.' Should this be a description of people who are submitting letters of support? Or a general description of why certain specialty crop farmers would support our proposed project?
The USDA is looking for descriptions of all levels of 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 to enable reviewers of this MDA competitive application to better gauge stakeholder support when evaluating your application. If your SC grant 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.

In the External Project Support Purpose section of the application questions we are asked to attach letters of support. Do you have a sense about the importance of a letter from a large group of growers compared to a letter from individual growers?
The Evaluation Criteria shown in the Minnesota Specialty Crop Block Grant RFP includes scoring for industry support by external stakeholders. There can be merit from each type of letter and story told to provide a clear picture of how they are involved in your project to the reviewers.

If more than one measurable outcome is applicable, should we discuss all of them? Or should we pick one measurable outcome and stick to the indicator we choose from THAT outcome?
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, and the method of data collection described for each Indicator/sub-indicator. Project activities done to accomplish each Outcome/Indicator and collect the data to measure the performance of each the project Outcome/Indicator will need to be reported in each annual and the final performance report.

If we choose to develop a project-specific indicator(s) how do we get approval by USDA, and does that approval need to come before we submit the proposal?
The Project-Specific indicator listed within a project is submitted with Minnesota’s State Plan when the MDA submits our application to the USDA. The approval then 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.

Is it preferred that we use the exact wording that is presented in the RFP for the performance measures (Outcomes and Indicators)? Do I need to provide estimated measures attained by conducting this project?
Yes to both questions.

We have a couple helpful figures/tables in our Project Purpose section. Can we upload those in another section of the application and provide references to them in the text of the Project Purpose?
Yes, the whole application and all uploaded documents are compiled and sent to the reviewers for evaluation and scoring.

Do we include spaces in our character count?
Yes.

I am planning on submitting a grant this year to the MDA. I am collaborating with a researcher in another state. How should I address this in my budget request?
In this situation and assuming that your organization is in Minnesota and will be administering the grant project, submit all the application and project details within your budget to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Make sure the proposal is only submitted to one state and no project activities or costs will be requested in applications to both states (keep project activities and costs separated). Your organization may then contract with the collaborator’s organization to set up work expectations and payment for your collaborator’s work on this project by contracting with the other State’s organization for the collaborator’s hours of work on your project (salary and fringe). You will be able to detail that within your budget narrative in the Contractor Budget Category along with describing what activities the collaborator will be doing for this project.

I am looking through the SCBG RFP. I don't see any mention of the work plan under the application instructions this time. Can you please tell me whether or not the work plan is part of the proposal this time around?
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.”

I see that indirect costs are ineligible for the grant. So does that mean that no administrative efforts can be covered? Or if we can estimate the number of hours it will take to do admin and reporting for this grant only, can we include that in the personnel section?
That is correct; all costs paid by the MDA for specialty crop grant project work needs to be direct costs and be able to be supported by your organization’s written procedures and the personnel costs claimed in the budget section of the application cannot normally be included in your organizations overhead costs or included in calculating your organizations indirect cost rate. I have seen direct costs for staff time spent doing a project’s financial work and administrative work like arranging project activities (a workshop or outreach event for example) approved and paid with SCBG funds. Labor costs must be based upon salaries actually earned from time actually worked on solely the awarded project and backed by documentation (time sheets and payroll reports); so you would need to estimate this amount of time in the Personnel budget section of the application.

Because we are located in Minneapolis, some of our collaborators are in Wisconsin. Is it ok to work with out of state entities, and even to host one of our events in Wisconsin if it will still benefit Minnesota specialty crop producers?
Yes, it is ok to work with out of state entities as long as their time spent working on the approved project can be accounted for separate from their other work and you convince the reviewers that Minnesota specialty crop producers will benefit from the project.

Can you tell me if a specialty crop block grant that involves a processing facility in Wisconsin which benefits Minnesota hazelnut farmers would be eligible? Or would all of the project participants have to be Minnesota entities and/or farmers?
Your project should be eligible as long as the project involves hazelnut growers/producers that reside in Minnesota and will enhance the competitiveness of hazelnuts grown in Minnesota. In such cases, the applicant does not have to be a Minnesota entity to be eligible for a grant. For example, the MDA has previously funded research projects with North Dakota State University involving research on potatoes grown in Minnesota. Minnesota potato producers will benefit from the project.

We are an Arizona based company currently doing a marketing project with SCBGP funding here. We are considering doing similar projects in other states as well. Are out-of-state companies eligible to apply for funding to do Minnesota based projects through your SCBGP funds?
We do accept applications from organizations outside of Minnesota. The overall goal of this grant program is to improve the competitiveness of Minnesota’s specialty crops through research, education or market development projects. Your project may be eligible if the proposal differs from or builds upon other funded SCBG projects and if your marketing project promotes specialty crops (separate from other kinds of crops) grown in Minnesota.

My business is a for-profit business (I do want to note that I have letters of support provided by all relevant industry organizations, though). Is there some other documentation the MDA would be looking for in lieu of a financial review process?
The State of Minnesota does not require financial documentation to be submitted by a for-profit business as part of our pre-award financial review process. If your application is approved by the MDA, we may request a recent balance sheet as part of our financial review process of for-profit businesses.

All applicants need to make sure to obtain a DUNS number and have registered with the System for Award Management (keep the e-mail confirmation) as described in the RFP.

We will be completing our current SCBG project in the next few months. We have made contacts with MN producers and our project has generated some interest and new farmer questions. Is there anything in particular that we need to know to submit a follow-up specialty crops grant proposal in this next application cycle?
You may apply for a SCB grant to fund a new project that follows from or stems from activities and results from your current project.  The next grant application will include a section of questions that asks applicants with proposed projects that will continue the efforts of a previously funded SCBG project to answer. The will include asking for 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 or not the projects are likely to become self-sustaining and that specialty crop stakeholders, other than those involved in the project, support the continuation of the project. 

All of the projects that are conditionally approved by the MDA from the next Request for Proposal will be sent together in the MDA’s State Plan and application to the USDA in May. A portion of these projects will most likely be continued from or a branch off of a previously awarded SCBG project.

Will projects that enhance the competitiveness of hemp now be eligible for SCBGP funding (forward from FFY2019)?
Hemp is still not eligible for SCBGP funding because it is a fiber crop. Removing hemp from the Controlled Substances Act doesn’t change that fact.

I have been surprised that none of the questions seem to admit for details of the process that will be undertaken and its rationale.
Details for the process that will be undertaken and rationale can be provided in the two Project Purpose narratives: rationale in specific issue, problem or need that the project will address narrative; and project details summarized in the Objectives List narrative. Further workplan details may be provided in the budget section in the Justification for Personnel and Justification for Contractors narratives.

My question is about the travel table - how much "per trip" detail is needed when there will be six trips to different locations in the state to provide GAPs workshops as part of this project?  Some locations are known, but others are yet to be determined if funded. 
We suggest to combine all all of the trips for one type of activity into one line in the travel table, and include the estimated total travel miles to all six GAPs workshops. Then in the travel justification section, we suggest you list the cities of the workshops that you know and the general locations (Northwestern region of MN, for example) of the ones you do not know, and show the equation that you used to arrive at estimated total miles proposed to travel for this type of workshop.

Would our co-op be an eligible applicant since the proposed project will support the marketing of product for multiple specialty crop producers?
For-profit entities and food hubs have been awarded Specialty Crop (SC) Grants, as seen in the list of Past Grantees. Projects that are designed to leverage efforts to market and promote specialty crops meet one of the criteria for eligibility for the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) (see updated purpose of SCBG program after the FFY2019 Grants).

An eligible proposal needs to show to the review committee members and 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 (need to list the farmer(s) or organization 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, who will benefit from the project.
  • 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 (increase this co-op’s sales of specialty crops at the expense of another co-op, for example).   

The review committee and MDA staff will make the determination of eligibility of an application based on the contents of an entire application. If you think the project you plan to propose in an application for a SC grant will meet the above criteria, then your application is most likely eligible for funding.

Is my marketing project, which will increase the sales of many varieties of vegetable crops in NW MN still eligible for a Specialty Crop Grant if it will also increase the sales of wild rice? This is because many of our regional SC growers also produce wild rice and market them through the same channels. I know that wild rice is not considered a specialty crop for this grant program by the USDA.
Yes. Prior to 2020, the answer was complicated, but the USDA recently updated the purpose of the SCBG program.

What is the new purpose of the SCBG program?
The purpose of the grant program, starting with 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.

Are subawards allowed in the SCBG program? We are considering a project that would be a collaboration between our Organization and an Industry partner, and I am wondering if we are able to submit a proposal on with a subaward going to our an external industry partner to do a portion of the project work?
Yes, subawards and subcontracts by the MDA’s SCB grantees are allowable and have been a part of previously approved projects. 

In your Specialty Crop application, describe the services or activities that your Organization would contract with the Industry partner for services in the application – most likely in the Contractual section of the budget. Then justify how these are needed to achieve the objectives or outcomes of the grant project.  Fixed amount subawards are allowable if approved by the MDA and then included and approved as part of MDA’s application to the USDA (see page 19 of last year’s RFA).

If approved by the USDA, your Organization would also need to pass/enforce the AMS-USDA SCBG Terms and Conditions down to the Industry partner in their sub-award contract or agreement.

For this group is there a specific target audience that can or cannot be served? For example, our proposed project is related to increased production (growing and selling) of specialty crops, and knowledge (education classes) of urban youth. Is there a requirement around creating a youth program year-round for specialty crops?
The result of a specialty crop grant research, development or education project is to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops; which can be accomplished by one of the 4 ways described on page 3 of the Request for Proposal. I do not see any exclusions on who are the beneficiaries of specialty crop grant project activities.  However, a priority point will be given to projects that directly benefit socially disadvantaged farmers, and a point to projects that directly benefit beginning farmers (see Project Evaluation Profile on page 14). The beneficiaries for some education projects are described on page 21 of the RFP, under Outcome measure 2 and seem to include all types of consumers. Projects using this outcome will measure the enhancement of the competitiveness of specialty crop(s) through increased consumption by measuring the number of children, youth or adults that gained knowledge about eating more specialty crop, intend to eat more or did eat more specialty crops. Even though the number of new specialty crop consumers will be measured in these grant projects, the intended long term targets/beneficiaries, are the specialty crop producers, who will sell more specialty crops in the future because more people will start buying and eating specialty crops.

Specialty crop funds cannot be used for business start-up or expansion costs. A major requirement is that 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, by explaining how they are going to accomplish this in the application.

I do not understand the what confirmation in the Contractual/Consultant Budget category section means- it is especially difficult to understand the referenced Federal Laws and standards identified in 2 CFR Part 200.317 through.326. Does my organization need to have written policies and procedures for procurements?

Yes, for the goods and services purchased through a procurement contract that are listed in your project budget to be eligible for SCBG funding. In addition, your organization must follow the same policies and procedures used for procurements from non-federal sources as when using federal funds, which reflect applicable State and local laws and regulations and conform to the Federal laws and standards identified in 2 CFR Part 200.317 through.326, as applicable.

To illustrate an example, the State of Minnesota’s contracting and bidding requirements for non-governmental organization grantees is described in clause 4.3 of Competitive Grant Agreement for Non-Governmental Organizations (Microsoft Word). These should conform to most of Federal Law and standards for most non-University or government grantee organizations for typical SCBG grant project procurement purchases as listed in 2 CFR 200.318-326.