By FRED PACE
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has one of the fastest growing maple industries in the United States, according to West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt.
“A grant from the Acer Access and Development (ACER) program will build on that success,” he said.
Leonhardt says the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) was awarded a $203,716 ACER grant, one of only three handed out this year.
“That money will be used to continue educational and research efforts to accelerate the growth of the maple industry in West Virginia and the central Appalachian region,” he said.
West Virginia maple producers tapped 9,000 gallons of syrup during the 2017 season, which ran from early February through mid March. That was a 33-percent increase from 2016. The state ranks 13th in the nation for maple syrup production, according to the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association.
“We want to see that number continue to climb,” Leonhardt said. “This grant will help the WVDA reach out to more maple producers, helping those already in the business build on their brand and offering workshops and seminars to newcomers.”
Leonhardt says as part of the grant, the WVDA will partner with the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, West Virginia Maple Syrup Producers Association, Laurel Fork Sap Suckers and Virginia Tech to hold a Southern Syrup Research Institute at WVU.
The event will focus on maple production issues specific to the Mid-Atlantic region, including climate, economic and distribution factors, he added.
“This proves what we’ve done so far is working,” said WVMSPA President Rich Flanigan. “The grant will springboard us forward to be a real competitor in the maple syrup industry.”
This is the first year ACER grants have been awarded. Iowa and Vermont were the other 2017 ACER recipients.
Meanwhile, the USDA announced earlier this week the awarding of the 2017 Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) to West Virginia.
Thirty-one projects were submitted to the West Virginia Department of Agriculture for competitive review. Twelve of those were selected to share $230,000 in funding, the USDA said in a news release.
“The purpose of the SCBG program is to solely enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops,” the release stated. “Specialty crops are defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.”
This year’s recipients include Winfield Elementary School’s “Come Grow with Us” campaign aimed at getting students excited about growing and harvesting their own fruits and vegetables in the school’s high tunnel; the West Virginia Maple Syrup Producer Association’s “Syrup Knowledge” program that will host a southern research symposium and syrup grading school to expand the market; and Wayne County School’s “Mine to Mushrooms” project where high school agriculture students will grow mushrooms in the classroom.
The WVDA also was selected to partner with West Virginia University’s Davis College of Agriculture to map areas of the state with the highest maple production potential, allowing producers to identify dense maple plots that can be developed efficiently.
“USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grants are essential to many states like ours. We relayed that message to Secretary Perdue during his visit to West Virginia last month,” Leonhardt said. “We had a great batch of ideas this year to help grow agriculture in our state. I wish we had access to more funds.”
Grant recipients have three years to plan, implement and gather data on their respective projects, according to the USDA.
The USDA handed out a total of $60.5 million to 678 projects across the United States and its territories for 2017. For a complete list of West Virginia’s 2017 SCBG recipients, log on to: www.agriculture.wv.gov/divisions/marketinganddevelopment/Documents/SBCG%20Web.pdf.
Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.
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