Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced 28 grants to solve specialty crop agriculture issues through research and Extension activities through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). "The specialty crop industry plays an enormously important part in American agriculture and is valued at approximately $50 billion every year," said Merrigan. "These projects will help provide specialty crop producers with the information and tools they need to successfully grow, process, and market safe and high quality products."
NIFA awarded more than $46 million through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which was established by the 2008 Farm Bill to support the specialty crop industry by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. Specialty crops are defined in law as "fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture." Funded projects address five focus areas: 1) improve crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; 2) address threats from pests and diseases; 3) improve production efficiency, productivity and profitability; 4) develop new innovations and technologies and 5) develop methods to improve food safety.
SCRI gives priority to projects that are multistate, multi-institutional or trans-disciplinary; and include explicit mechanisms to communicate results to producers and the public. Each of the focus areas received at least 10 percent of the available funds. The majority of funded projects address two or more focus areas, and include many collaborating institutions in addition to the awardee.
The projects funded address research and Extension needs for crops that span the entire spectrum of specialty crops production, from studying microbial threats to greenhouse tomatoes to assessing grower needs and market potential of berry crops. Major projects were also funded to study the genetics of lettuce breeding and to improve grape and wine quality.
Below is the complete list of projects.
Agricultural Research Service - Four grants totaling $3,792,298 in funding to USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).
1) ARS Environmental Microbiology and Food Safety Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., to research innovative technologies and process optimization for food safety risk reduction associated with fresh and fresh-cut leafy green vegetables. The project’s goals are to optimize produce wash systems to improve sanitizer efficacy and prevent cross-contamination; develop innovative washing processes using ultrasound, surfactants, and sanitizers; and evaluate economic, social, and environmental impacts. $1,697,509
2) ARS Tree Fruit Research Laboratory in Wenatchee, Wash., to develop a diagnostic toolbox for integrated management of postharvest apple necrotic disorders. This project’s goal is to provide storage managers with effective biomarker-based tools that predict, diagnose and distinguish these disorders to efficiently target treatments, guide storage management and marketing decisions. $1,483,438
3) ARS San Joaquin Valley Agricultural Sciences Center in Parlier, Calif., to develop sustainable water management strategies for vineyards. Researchers will develop sustainable water management strategies for wine, table, raisin, and juice grape production using limited water supplies; develop sustainable water and soil management strategies; and establish rootstock recommendations based on drought resistance and salinity tolerance. $562,035
4) ARS Plant Genetic Resources Unit in Geneva, NY, to assess the potential of rootstock technologies and research to increase profitability and sustainability in tree fruit production. Researchers will assemble an industry focus group that advises on research needs regarding apple, peach, cherry, and pear rootstock research and create novel networks for rootstock research. $49,316
Alabama – Auburn University at Auburn, Ala., to develop a smart trap system for the invasive ambrosia beetles in production nurseries. Researchers will develop a trap that attracts captures, identifies and confirms the specific presence of destructive Asian ambrosia beetles. $604,771
Arizona – Arizona State University’s Morrison School of Agribusiness and Resource Management in Mesa, Ariz., for its project “Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) in California: An economic analysis of efficient management and control strategies.” Researchers will determine the most economically efficient way to minimize the risk faced by the California citrus industry to ACP infestation and exposure to citrus greening disease. $312,471
California – Three grants totaling $6,658,805 in funding to the University of California–Davis.
1) Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering in UC-Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Davis, Calif., to study precision canopy and water management of specialty crops through sensor-based decision making. Researchers will develop and deploy farm-based, reconfigurable, sensors to assist growers in making better management decisions to improve crop quality and increase production efficiency while reducing their environmental footprint. $2,590,885
2) Department of Plant Sciences in UC–Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Davis, Calif., for its project “Next generation lettuce breeding: Genes to growers.” Researchers will determine the genetic basis of horticulturally important traits in lettuce to identify candidate genes that can be used for lettuce improvement. $2,518,477
3) Department of Pathology in UC–Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Davis, Calif., for its project “Recurrent migrations of Verticillium dahliae: A stealthy and pervasive threat to California and U.S. specialty crops.” Researchers will investigate the seed trade, risks of seed transmission, and soil infestation from planting infected spinach and lettuce seed. $1,549,473
Colorado – Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management in Colorado State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences at Fort Collins, Colo., for its project “ipmPIPE and innovative disease diagnostic tools for onion growers.” Researchers aim to develop, fully deploy, and evaluate a sustainable online information management platform called the Onion ipmPIPE (Integrated Pest Management Pest Information Platform for Extension and Education) to optimize sound pest management decision-making in onions. $2,467,589
Florida – University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., to develop precision decision management for sustainable strawberry production in the Eastern U.S. Researchers aim to reduce by half the number of fungicide applications on strawberries and develop a fungicide resistance monitoring system. Click here to see the Florida Grower article, which gives more background on this project. $2,939,056
Illinois – Department of Crop Sciences in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at Urbana, Ill., for its project “Impact and social acceptance of selected sustainable practices in ornamental crop production systems.” Researchers will provide information to industry leaders supporting critical decisions on the use of container choice and irrigation management on economical and environmental implications. $1,548,793
Indiana – Department of Horticulture in Purdue University’s College of Agriculture at West Lafayette, Ind., to develop LED lighting technologies and practices for sustainable specialty-crop production. Researchers aim to develop a cost-effective greenhouse lighting system to help solve the energy dilemma that prevents the establishment of a sustainable specialty-crop industry in the northern United States. $2,441,298
Michigan – Department of Entomology in Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at East Lansing, Mich., to study conserving native bees and valuing their services for sustainable specialty crop pollination. This project will help identify barriers to the adoption of bee conservation practices and will design integrated research and extension-outreach programs to guide pollination-related management decisions. $46,050
Minnestoa – Department of Horticultural Science in the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at Saint Paul, Minn., to develop an eXtension community of practice (COP) for apples. The apple COP will provide region-specific apple variety and rootstock descriptions and recommendations. $496,663
New York - Two grants totaling $3,222,100 in funding to Cornell University.
1) Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, to establish a broccoli industry in the Eastern United States. Researchers will create a regional food network for broccoli by generating 50 to 85 hybrids each year, establishing regional testing sites, producing sufficient seed supplies, market the new hybrid varieties, train and support growers, and establish a supply chain. $3,172,100
2) Cornell University also received $50,000 to develop and implement a national web-based decision support system for apple integrated pest management (IPM). Researchers will develop a plan for a national tree fruit IPM website that will provide stakeholders with timely information that should optimize pesticide usage and minimize environmental impacts.
Northern Marianas Islands - Northern Marianas College at Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands (NMI), to develop an artificial food storage cavern for improving the storability of taro and sweet potato produced in the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI). In this research and extension planning project, availability and sustainability of the food storage cavern in the NMI will be investigated and verified through international collaboration, underground space technology seminars and public hearings with local farmers. $28,629
Ohio – The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Wooster, Ohio, to develop a systems approach to managing microbial threats to greenhouse tomatoes. The goal of this project is to increase the sustainability of greenhouse tomato production by improving food safety and disease management approaches. $2,037,717
Oklahoma – Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla., to define research and extension priorities for pecan production, processing, marking and consumer utilization. Researchers will establish national research and extension priorities for pecan production, processing, marketing and utilization. $30,000
Oregon – Two grants totaling $5,808,980 in funding to Oregon State University.
1) Department of Horticulture in Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences in Corvallis, Ore., to research the biology and management of spotted wing drosophila (SWD) on small and stone fruit. Researchers will develop a trans-disciplinary systems-based and sustainable approach to the management of SWD and provide a network of outreach programs to improve crop production. $5,758,980
2) Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center Agricultural Experiment Station in Portland, Ore., to conduct a feasibility study of automated full-chain traceability systems to improve food safety, quality and productivity of specialty crops. This planning grant will bring together university researchers and industrial collaborators to identify objectives and tasks for developing an integrated research proposal for developing a full-chain traceability system for specialty crops. $50,000
Pennsylvania – Two grants totaling $1,388,438 in funding to The Pennsylvania State University.
1) Department of Entomology in Penn State’s College of Agriculture Sciences in University Park, Penn., to determine the roles and limiting factors facing native pollinators in assuring quality apple production in Pennsylvania. Researchers will establish baseline biodiversity and abundance data for native bees, determine which species are tree fruit pollinators, and determine the biological and pesticide threats to pollinators and how to mitigate them. $1,338,438
2) Department of Horticulture in Penn State’s College of Agriculture Sciences in University Park, Penn., to develop protective structures for berry crop production and assess grower needs and market potential. Researchers will gather information through surveys and workshops with high tunnel berry producers, determine consumer preferences, and survey intermediaries (wholesalers, distributors, brokers, and/or retailers) to determine factors involved in their decisions to purchase berries. $50,000
Tennessee – Department of Plant Sciences in the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture at Knoxville, Tenn., to develop a commercial processing industry for edamame in the Eastern United States. The goal is to improve the nutritional composition and availability of locally grown vegetable edamame soybean varieties to small farmers and U.S. consumers. $50,000
Texas – Texas A&M University’s Texas AgriLife Research Center at College Station, Texas, to study plant genetics and genomics to improve drought and salinity tolerance for sustainable turfgrass production in the Southern United States. Researchers will develop and commercialize salinity and drought tolerant cultivars of five major turfgrass species commonly used across the Southern United States. $3,802,678
Virginia – Two grants totaling $6,526,342 in funding to Virginia Tech.
1) Virginia Tech’s Alson H. Smith, Jr., Agricultural Research and Experiment Station in Winchester, Va., for its project “Improved grape and wine quality in a challenging environment: An Eastern U.S. model for sustainability and economic vitality.” Research goals are to explore vine vegetative growth and vigor with the aim of promoting increased grape and wine quality, reducing canopy management labor, and reducing the use of herbicide inputs and nitrogen losses from the vineyard. $3,796,693
2) Virginia Tech’s Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Experiment Station in Virginia Beach, Va., to study integrated management of zoosporic pathogens and irrigation water quality for a sustainable green industry. Researchers aim to improve and maintain the health of nursery and floral crops through delivery to the consumer, protect water quality and increase water use efficiency by the green industry. $2,729,649
Source: USDA news release