Agriculture Under Secretary Gale Buchanan announced more than $9.4 million for research, education and extension in the genomics of sunflower, black cherry, peach, strawberry, apple, lettuce, potato and tomato to researchers and educators at eight universities.

Valued at more than $49 billion, the U.S. specialty crop industry is a major contributor to the U.S. economy.

"These grants will create new knowledge, information, genomic resources and seeds that may improve fruit quality, yield, drought tolerance and disease resistance in specialty crops," said Gale Buchanan, USDA chief scientist and under secretary for Research, Education and Economics. "This research is also expected to create new educational, training and extension avenues for students and the public in the area of fruit and vegetable crop sciences."

These awards are part of the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service National Research Initiative Plant Genome Program and are in addition to grants that will be made under the new Specialty Crop Research Initiative that was created by the 2008 Farm Bill. The goal of the plant genome program is to increase fundamental knowledge of the structure, function and organization of plant genomes to improve agricultural efficiency and sustainability; effective integration of modern molecular breeding technologies and classical breeding practice for U.S. crop improvement; and improved U.S. varieties for agricultural growers and producers.

Michigan State University was awarded more than $5 million for a Coordinated Agricultural Project award to study specialty crops within Solanaceae, including potato and tomato. The Solanaceae CAP will integrate genetic research with extension to ultimately develop improved varieties of potato and tomato with high value traits, such as carbohydrate and vitamin content. CAP projects combine significant funding over time and across institutions to support discovery and applications and promote communication leading to innovative science-based solutions to critical and emerging national priorities and needs.