“The specialty crop industry plays an enormously important part in American agriculture and is valued at approximately $50 billion every year,” Ms. Merrigan said. “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.”
The grants were awarded 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 as “fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.”
The funded projects may address one of five focus areas: 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.
According to the USDA the 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% of the available funds, and the majority of funded projects address two or more focus areas.
Greenhouse tomatoes, berry crops, lettuce and grapes are among the specialty crops for which funding has been earmarked, the USDA said.