USDA is investing $70.2 million in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative to support nearly two dozen research and Extension projects.
USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small announced the funding on a call with reporters and described the kinds of projects that will be funded.
“The awarded projects addressed key challenges of national, regional and multi state importance to the food and agriculture industry, including conventional and organic food production systems,” she said. “The Specialty Crop Research Initiative prioritizes projects that improve crop characteristics, manage threats from pests and diseases, improve production efficiency, profitability and technological innovation, and mitigate food safety hazards.”
The grant program is administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Torres Small said it’s part of a new effort to further support the U.S. specialty crops sector and increase the competitiveness of its products, as demonstrated by a project in Michigan.
“There are twenty-one projects that have been announced and just a few examples include Michigan State University, which is using it to increase competitive competitiveness and sustainability of the US blueberry industry by developing methods to improve fruit quality and reduce crop loss,” she said. “As you know, the blueberry industry has these challenges when it comes to being competitive globally and so this is an opportunity to invest there.”
USDA conducted a departmentwide review of its current services and programs that support the specialty crops industry and compiled the information into a Specialty Crops Resource Directory. Torres Small said it contains a comprehensive snapshot of USDA’s resources and services for specialty crops producers and businesses.
In addition, over the next several months, USDA leadership will engage directly with the specialty crop industry and producers to gain feedback on how the Department can better address gaps in services and better meet the industry’s needs.
USDA also encourages U.S. specialty crops stakeholders to submit comments on how USDA can better support and meet the needs of the industry. To submit a comment, visit the Request for Information posted in the Federal Register. Comments are due by March 8, 2024. A new specialty crops-dedicated webpage designed to provide information on the initiative is available at www.usda.gov/specialty-crops.
Dates and locations of roundtables and other live opportunities for stakeholder feedback are yet to be announced.