Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of more than $66.5 million in funding for research and extension activities to address the needs of America's specialty crop industry and solve critical organic agricultural production issues. The grants will be funded through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative. Both programs are administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and made available through the 2014 Farm Bill.

"Investments in projects to help organic producers and specialty crop growers are an important way USDA helps American farmers establish new business opportunities throughout the country," said Vilsack. "The projects funded by these programs will build on USDA support for local and regional markets. And strengthening local markets grows the rural economy while improving access to healthy food for millions of children and supplying farmers markets, restaurants and other businesses with fresh, high-quality fruits and vegetables."

Specialty crops are defined in law as "fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture." The Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) develops and disseminates science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. The projects funded 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.

Past projects include a project at Michigan State University to develop sustainable pollination strategies for U.S. specialty crops, a grant to the University of Arkansas to create genomic resources needed for spinach to develop resistance to the downy mildew pathogen, and a project at North Carolina State University that is developing genomic tools to produce low cost and high quality Christmas trees with properties desired by consumers.

SCRI pre-applications are due March 30, 2015, and full applications are due July 2, 2015. Please see the request for applications for specific program requirements.

Additionally, in fiscal year 2015, NIFA will make $25 million available through the Citrus Disease Research and Extension (CDRE) program, a subset of SCRI focused on research and extension activities to improve citrus health. NIFA will issue a supplemental Request For Applications for CDRE subsequently.

The purpose of the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) is to fund high-priority research, education, and extension projects that enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic products. Priority concerns include biological, physical, and social sciences, including economics. Past projects include a project at Utah State University to foster the development of economically viable and environmentally sustainable farming systems to address the issues facing western U.S. dryland organic wheat producers, a grant to Iowa State University to enhance the sustainability of organic systems by integrating crop and livestock production systems, and a project at Purdue University that addresses crop management issues faced by organic tomato producers.

Funded projects will aid farmers and ranchers with whole farm planning by delivering practical research-based information and will improve the ability for growers to develop the Organic System Plan required for certification.

OREI has eight legislatively-defined goals:

  • Facilitating the development and improvement of organic agriculture production, breeding, and processing methods.
  • Evaluating the potential economic benefits of organic agricultural production and methods to producers, processors and rural communities.
  • Exploring international trade opportunities for organically grown and processed agricultural commodities.
  • Determining desirable traits for organic commodities.
  • Identifying marketing and policy constraints on the expansion of organic agriculture.
  • Conducting advanced on-farm research and development that emphasizes observation of, experimentation with, and innovation for working organic farms, including research relating to production, marketing, food safety, socioeconomic conditions, and farm business management.
  • Examining optimal conservation and environmental outcomes relating to organically produced agricultural products.
  • Developing new and improved seed varieties that are particularly suited for organic agriculture.

A Notification of Intent to Submit an Application is due on April 1, 2015. Full applications are due April 30, 2015. Please see the request for applications for specific program requirements.

NIFA previously announced more than $51 million in funding for the fiscal year 2014 SCRI grantees. Additionally, NIFA announced more than $19 million in funding for the fiscal year 2014 OREI grants.

Today's announcement was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

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.