USDA highlighted new methods of managing pests and diseases, composting and other topics of interest to the specialty crops industry that is leading to increased productivity, new technological advancements, and improved economic performance in today's agricultural sector. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan surveyed these developments and encouraged stakeholders to take their collaborative partnerships to the next level at a forum hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT).

"Today's forum affords a unique opportunity for growers and other valued members of Ohio's specialty crops community to learn first-hand about the latest research and technology transfer of interest to their industry," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "More broadly, today's event underscores how research strengthens the agricultural industry and supports jobs and growth in our nation's rural communities. By accelerating the transfer of this research to commercialization, we're helping private sector entrepreneurs to commercialize USDA innovations, which benefits producers and consumers alike."

The forum is part of an ongoing series organized by ARS, CIFT and other members comprising the Agricultural Technology Innovation Partnership (ATIP). Created by the ARS Office of Technology Transfer in June 2011, the ATIP program seeks to facilitate the adoption of new technologies and other federal research outcomes by the private sector. Toward that end, ARS has signed partnership intermediary agreements with CIFT and eight other regional economic development entities strategically located around the country.

"The program arose from recognition that an individual federal research agency can be limited by mission and resources as to what services it can provide to industry partners seeking to commercialize the outcomes of federal research," said Rob Griesbach, deputy assistant administrator for the ARS Office of Technology Transfer.

The first of the Ohio specialty crops forum series began with listening sessions, in which farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses identified their industry's most pressing issues. A second session identified those issues in which ARS researchers had already developed a solution. Today's forum gathered these researchers to discuss the implementation of the research results with a view to solving the agriculture problem identified in the listening session. In addition to ARS and CIFT, other forum participants include USDA Rural Development, USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, agri-business professionals, university researchers, extension service personnel, funding and regulatory agency personnel, and other partner organizations.

Topics discussed included:

• Methods to extend the growing season using plastic structures called hoop houses;

• New varieties that can extend the season or offer regional production opportunities;

• New scientific insight into composting and practical applications;

• Disease detection and pest management;

• Development of market-specific varieties, as well as root crops and berries;

• Interregional Research Project No. 4 (IR-4) programs and activities; and

• Funding for continued specialty crops research.

The ATIP program serves as a model for a more user-driven approach to technology transfer in the federal government that is being replicated nationally because it offers a paradigm shift in how we leverage our research capabilities to foster economic development and assure the global competitiveness of our producers, stakeholders and community members.