USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced $50,000 in funding to University of Tennessee to solve specialty crop agriculture issues through research and Extension activities.

“The specialty crop industry plays an enormously important part in American agriculture and is valued at approximately $50 billion every year,” said Roger Beachy, NIFA director. “These projects will be key to providing specialty crop producers with the information and tools they need to successfully grow, process, and market safe and high quality products.”

The grant is awarded to the Department of Plant Sciences in the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture at Knoxville, Tenn., to develop a commercial processing industry for edamame in the eastern United States. The program’s goal is to improve the nutritional composition and availability of locally grown vegetable edamame soybean varieties to small farmers and, ultimately, to U.S. consumers.

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 multi-state, 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 addresses two or more focus areas, and includes 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.

For more information on this specific project, contact Carl Sams, UT professor of plant sciences, at 865-974-7324 or carlsams@utk.edu.

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. More information is at: www.nifa.usda.gov.