Vilsack's announcement also highlighted $46 million in new and continuing grants through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which supports the specialty crop industry by developing and disseminating science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. Specialty crops are defined in law as "fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture." Funded projects address five focus areas: 1) improve crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; 2) address threats from pests and diseases; 3) improve production efficiency, productivity and profitability; 4) develop new innovations and technologies and 5) develop methods to improve food safety.

SCRI projects are funded through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and 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. For a full list of awards, visit http://www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2012news/scri_award_descriptions.html.

For example, the Citrus Research and Development Foundation of Lake Alfred, Fla., received a $9 million grant to work to eliminate citrus greening by blocking the ability of insects to move the disease from infected trees to healthy ones. Citrus greening threatens to destroy over 1 million commercial citrus acres that have an annual production value of approximately $3 billion across the nation. Yearly losses could reach $10 billion if citrus greening is left unchecked.

USDA also awarded two research grants to the University of Wisconsin, totaling roughly $6 million. One of the projects seeks to improve the efficiency, productivity and profitability of vegetable production and processing by developing tools to better understand the role of consumer markets. The second grant will support ongoing work to reduce naturally-occurring compounds from forming in potatoes during high-temperature cooking processes such as roasting and frying.

Most SCRI projects involve public and private sector collaborations, leading to multistate, multi-institutional or trans-disciplinary efforts. To leverage NIFA's investment and increase potential impact from federal funding, SCRI recipients are required to provide a 100 percent match in funds from non-federal sources.