Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced 28 grants to solve specialty crop agriculture issues through research and Extension activities through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

"The specialty crop industry plays an enormously important part in American agriculture and is valued at approximately $50 billion every year," said Merrigan. "These projects will help provide specialty crop producers with the information and tools they need to successfully grow, process, and market safe and high quality products."

NIFA awarded more than $46 million through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), which was established by the 2008 farm bill to support 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 gives priority to projects that are multistate, multi-institutional or trans-disciplinary; and include explicit mechanisms to communicate results to producers and the public. Each of the focus areas received at least 10 percent of the available funds. The majority of funded projects address two or more focus areas, and include many collaborating institutions in addition to the awardee.

The projects funded address research and Extension needs for crops that span the entire spectrum of specialty crops production, from studying microbial threats to greenhouse tomatoes to assessing grower needs and market potential of berry crops. Major projects were also funded to study the genetics of lettuce breeding and to improve grape and wine quality.

Fiscal Year 2010 SCRI research and extension grants were awarded to:

Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., $604,771

Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., $312,471

USDA Agricultural Research Service, Albany, Calif., $2,641,480

University of California, Davis, Calif., $2,590,885

University of California, Davis, Calif., $2,518,477

University of California, Davis, Calif., $ 1,549,473

Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colo., $2,467,589

University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $2,939,056

University of Illinois, Urbana, Ill., $1,548,793

Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $2,441,298

USDA Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Md., $1,697,509

Michigan State University, Lansing, Mich., $46,050

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., $496,663

USDA Agricultural Research Service, Geneva, N.Y., $49,316

Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $3,172,100

Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $50,000

Northern Marianas College, Susupe, Northern Mariana Islands, $28,629

Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $2,037,717

Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., $30,000

Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $5,758,980

Oregon State University, Corvallis, Ore., $50,000

Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., $1,338,438

Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., $50,000

University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., $50,000

Texas AgriLife Research, College Station, Texas, $3,802,678

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., $3,796,693

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., $2,729,649

USDA Agricultural Research Service, Wenatchee, Wash., $1,483,438

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. For more information, visit www.nifa.usda.gov.