Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has announced 28 grants to solve specialty crop agriculture issues through research and extension activities through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Specialty crops are defined in law as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.
"When these grants were made priority was given to projects that are multi-state, multi-institutional or trans-disciplinary," Merrigan said. "So there are a number of colleges working together on projects. At least 10% of the money has to be tied to education efforts to the public."
That education on these funded projects will focus in five areas: to improve crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; address threats from pests and diseases; improve production efficiency, productivity and profitability; develop new innovations and technologies and develop methods to improve food safety.
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.
"We think this is a very important initiative and very important research in a time when this Administration is trying to highlight the need for all Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables," Merrigan said. "We need to provide producers with the tools they need to produce in a way that is going to mean a good economic bottom line for them."
Use the audio player above to listen to comments Merrigan made in announcing these grants Monday.