Todd P. Haymore, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has announced funding for five agriculture research grants as part of the Specialty Agriculture Initiative of Virginia Works, the state's plan to promote economic development in Virginia's rural communities.

These grants will facilitate the development and marketing of value-added, specialty agricultural products and will be managed by VDACS’ Office of Agribusiness Development Services.

A review committee consisting of representatives from VDACS, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, and the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation analyzed grant proposals based on the following criteria: Potential for broad regional or statewide economic impact, commercial adaptability of the target product, and level of outside funding and industry support demonstrated.

They selected five proposals for funding:

Development of Low Linoleic Soybean for Specialty Oil, Katy Rainey, assistant professor, soybean breeding and genetics, assisted by Kevin Zhou, assistant professor, food science and technology, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg — $19,000. The goal of this project is to develop soybean cultivars which are adapted to Virginia's growing conditions and also deliver a price premium to growers because of the low trans-fat oils derived from low linoleic soybeans.

Evaluation of Cultivars in Protected Culture Cherries, Rongcai Yuan, Tony Wolf, and Keith Yoder, based at the Alson H. Smith, Jr. Agriculture Research and Education Center in Winchester — $11,315. The primary objective of this proposal is to evaluate fruit cracking-resistant cultivars in the field and study protected culture of cherries in Virginia. Fruiting trees will be evaluated for yield efficiency, fruit quality, crack susceptibility, disease resistance, and tree size.

Development and Management of Specialty Small Grains, Carl Griffey and Wade Thomason from the Virginia Tech Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, along with Robert Pitman, superintendent of the Eastern Virginia Agriculture Research and Education Center in Warsaw — $17,600. One of the primary objectives of this research is to develop high quality hard red winter (HRW) wheat varieties adapted to Virginia, along with optimal production protocols.

Oilseed Flax as a Food, Feed, and Biodiesel Crop, Harbans Bhardwaj, professor, research scientist with the Virginia Agricultural Research Station at Virginia State University — $22,000. This project will evaluate the production potential of flax in Virginia to enhance the agricultural economy through crop diversification.

Protected Cut-Flower Production in Virginia, Andy Hankins, Extension specialist, alternative agriculture, based at Virginia State University in Petersburg — $22,712. The goal of this project is to help establish commercial production of cool weather cut-flower species and to help cut-flower farmers increase their growing season by using high tunnels and hoop houses.

These research projects will support the development, production and marketing of viable specialty agricultural products, intended to boost farm net income, on large, small and mid-sized operations and to increase rural income opportunities.

Virginia Works is a package of targeted investments designed to create jobs and spur development in economically distressed rural areas of the Commonwealth.

For more information on the specialty grants, contact Charles Green at 804.692.2514 or charles.green@vdacs.virginia.gov.