USDA on Tuesday announced the availability of more than $66.5 million in funding for research and extension activities for the specialty crop industry and to solve organic agricultural production issues.
Related: Grants Help Support Specialty Crops
The grants will be funded through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. Both programs are administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture and made available through the 2014 Farm Bill.
Vilsack said the projects will build support for local and regional markets, thereby growing the rural economy and providing access to healthy food.
The investments also assist projects that help organic producers and specialty crop growers in "supplying farmers markets, restaurants and other businesses with fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables," Vilsack said.
Specialty crops are defined in law as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture, USDA said.
The Specialty Crop Research Initiative develops and disseminates science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops.
The projects funded address research and extension needs for crops that span the entire spectrum of specialty crops production, from researching plant genetics to improving crop characteristics; identifying and addressing threats from pests and diseases; improving production and profitability; developing new production innovations and technologies; and developing methods to respond to food safety hazards.
Past projects include a project at Michigan State University to develop sustainable pollination strategies for U.S. specialty crops and a grant to the University of Arkansas to create genomic resources needed for spinach to develop resistance to the downy mildew pathogen.
SCRI pre-applications are due March 30, 2015, and full applications are due July 2, 2015. Please see the request for applications for specific program requirements.