USDA-NIFA to Invest in Specialty Crop Research

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced Fiscal Year 2018 funding for research and extension activities to enhance productivity, safety, and innovation in the specialty crop industry. Funding is made through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“To be competitive in a global market, U.S. specialty crop producers need to use sophisticated technologies and prudent practices,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “These NIFA investments support large-scale systems projects that we expect will result in knowledge, which can promote efficient and effective production, processing, and distribution practices, along with long-term solutions to specialty crop industry challenges.”

Specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. The Specialty Crop Research Initiative invites pre-applications to solve critical U.S. specialty crop issues, priorities, or problems through integrated research and extension activities that use systems-based, trans-disciplinary approaches. The SCRI program will give priority to projects that are multistate, multi-institutional, or trans-disciplinary and include clearly defined mechanisms to communicate results to producers and the public. Five focus areas for SCRI projects include research on breeding, pest and disease management, production efficiency, innovations and technology, and food safety.

NIFA will distribute $48 million for FY 2018 specialty crops research. NIFA has invested more than $400 million through the SCRI program to date. Previously funded work includes a Clemson University project to encourage growers to use online resources for consumption of recycled water; the resources include online decision tools, grower surveys to understand barriers, economic management protocols, and models for water disinfection and distribution. Cornell University coordinated the Northern Grapes Project, a consortium of research and extension specialists from 14 states from New England to the Upper Midwest. The project resulted in a 17 percent increase in production of cold hardy grapes in the region. Further analysis showed that employment in vineyards producing cold hardy grapes increased 32 percent from 5,900 to 7,800 jobs, employment in wineries increased from 5,000 to 8,400 jobs (68 percent), and employment in tasting rooms increased from 1,500 to 2,526 jobs (49 percent). In the wineries, sales of cold-hardy wines increased by 11 percent and the economic contribution of the wineries increased from $215 million to $255 million (19 percent).

The anticipated amount available for funding is $48 million. The application deadline is Dec. 8, 2017. See the request for applications for details.

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