Specialty crop grants awarded as part of the 2012 Specialty Crop Research Initiative were announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this week. Some $101 million in grants will support the nation’s specialty crop producers through projects designed to strengthen markets, expand economic opportunities, and provide research and extension activities to address challenges.

About $46 million will fund 14 SCRI projects, four of which relate to tree fruit and grapes. Approximately $55 million will be given to states for specialty crop block grants. Nearly  will be funded. For the block grants made through the states, nearly 750 block grant projects across the country will receive funding, totaling $55 million.

Most SCRI projects involve public and private sector collaborations, leading to multistate, multi-institutional or trans-disciplinary efforts. SCRI recipients are required to provide a 100 percent match in funds from non-federal sources.

Funding for the SCRI was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill to support U.S. specialty crop producers. Although the Farm Bill expired at the end of September, budget appropriations for the 2012 projects were already committed. However, future funding of the SCRI is uncertain.

The following is brief description of the four SCRI grants that pertain to tree fruit and grapes:

Pruning – Purdue University, Indiana received $3 million to automate dormant pruning of grapes and apples, using sensors, computers, and robotic manipulators.

Pollination – Michigan State University, $1.7 million to develop integrated crop pollination management approaches to diversify pollination sources and maintain consistent yields.

Biopesticides – Pennsylvania State University, $1.4 million to produce biopesticides for commercial use to offset the loss of registered chemicals and resistance.

Trunk diseases – Agricultural Research Service, Davis, California, $1.8 million to develop wood-canker disease management strategies to improve productivity and longevity of almond, grape, and pistachio crops.