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USDA Hands Out $46M to Develop Tools for Specialty Crops

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The US Department of Agriculture today announced the awarding of 29 grants totaling $46 million for the development of science-based tools to address the needs of America's specialty crops.

Among the grants handed out through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Specialty Crop Research Initiative were several for genetics-based research.

Specialty crops are legally defined as "'fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture,'" USDA said in a statement. Today's grants focus on five specific areas: improving crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics, and genomics; addressing threats from pests and disease; improving production efficiency, productivity, and profitability; developing new innovations and technologies; and developing methods for improving food safety.

Each of the focus areas received at least 10 percent of the available funds, and most of the projects receiving the funding address two or more focus areas, USDA said.

"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, supporting jobs, and opportunities for Americans working in specialty crops," Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said.

Among the grants awarded is one for $1.5 million to Auburn University to develop and test an "inexpensive, accurate, [and] easy to use" biosensor for detecting Salmonella contamination of fresh globe fruits such as tomatoes, cantaloupes, and watermelons.

Michigan State University was awarded $1.3 million to develop genomic tools and training for the floriculture industry to adopt molecular breeding techniques for petunia.

Also, Cornell University received $2.1 million to develop better genetic technologies to accelerate grape cultivar improvement, and to improve communication between the science and grape industry communities.

The USDA Agricultural Research Service in Corvallis, Ore., received $1.6 million to develop genomic tools to improve black and red raspberry and apply the technologies to wild black raspberry germplasm for crop improvement.

The USDA Agricultural Research Service in Madison, Wis., was awarded $1.3 million to develop translational genomics tools using the draft genome sequence of the cucumber. The genomics tools will be directed at trying to make cucumbers resistant against a new destructive strain of the downy mildew pathogen as well as persisting potyviruses.