Nov 9, 2023
USDA Specialty Crops Competitiveness Initiative launched

Through the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Initiative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to provide additional support to and increase the competitiveness of the specialty crops sector.

The effort is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to build new, more and better markets that catalyze opportunity for American farmers, according to a news release.

“We all count on America’s specialty crops for reliable access to nutritious, fresh foods,” USDA Deputy Secretary Torres Small said in the release. “Specialty crop producers are hard at work to keep operations profitable while implementing sustainable practices, and President Biden is proud to invest in innovation within the industry to remain competitive domestically and in markets across the world.”

As part of the effort, USDA conducted a departmentwide review of its current services and programs that support the specialty crops industry and compiled the information into a Specialty Crops Resource Directory.  The directory, introduced Nov. 9, is a one-stop shop for the sector and contains a comprehensive snapshot of USDA’s resources and services for specialty crops producers and businesses in one convenient location.

Additionally, over the next several months, USDA leadership plans to work directly with the specialty crop industry and producers to gain feedback on how the department can better address gaps in services and better meet the industry’s needs. Dates and locations of roundtables and other live opportunities for stakeholder feedback are to be announced.

USDA logoUSDA also encourages U.S. specialty crops stakeholders to submit comments on how USDA can better support and meet the industry’s needs. To submit a comment, visit the Request for Information posted in the Federal Register. Comments are due March 8. A new specialty crops-dedicated webpage designed to provide information on the initiative is available at usda.gov/specialty-crops.

Small was making the announcement as administration officials traveled the country as part of the Investing in Rural America event series to highlight how the administration’s investments are bringing new revenue to farms, increased economic development in rural towns and communities, and more opportunity throughout the country. Increasing competition is a key pillar of Bidenomics and President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, according to the release.

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) applauded the administration’s commitment to prioritizing the specialty crops industry at USDA.

“This type of whole-of-the-agency approach is long overdue to better address the challenges and opportunities the fresh produce industry faces daily as we strive to nourish the world with our products,” IFPA said in a news release. “We look forward to working hand in hand with USDA to build meaningful programs that further drive the industry forward and make our nutritious products even more competitive in global marketplace. IFPA is committed to building markets and increasing consumption of fresh produce to improve health and well-being for all.”

Specialty Crop Research Initiative
In addition, USDA announced it is investing $70.2 million in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative to support 21 research and Extension projects that address key challenges of national, regional and multistate importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems.

The grant program, administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), prioritizes projects that improve crop characteristics; manages threats from pests and diseases; improves production efficiency, profitability and technological innovation; and mitigates food safety hazards.

Examples of the 21 projects include:

•Michigan State University will increase competitiveness and sustainability of the U.S. blueberry industry by developing methods to improve fruit quality and reduce crop loss.

•Pennsylvania State University will focus on new pest and disease management strategies for mushroom farms, specifically by transitioning the management of mushroom pathogens and flies beyond short-term reliance on pesticides.

•University of Georgia will undertake a coordinated, multistate effort to improve the understanding of the recent anthracnose outbreaks by determining pathogen biology, population structure, host specificity and fungicide resistance profiles of the pathogen causing severe anthracnose outbreaks in cucurbit crops.

Additional Efforts to Support the U.S. Specialty Crop Industry
Recently, USDA announced the new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program (RAPP), with $100 million to help specialty crop producers access global markets through targeted technical assistance to overcome trade barriers.

USDA implemented new and expanded crop insurance options for specialty crop and organic producers and implemented the 2022 Emergency Relief Program for specialty crop producers impacted by natural disasters. In August, USDA invested $1 billion in 12,000 projects through the Specialty Crop Block Grant awards.

USDA also continues its support for the industry through its food purchases for nutrition assistance programs, which encourages the consumption of domestic foods. In fiscal year 2023, USDA purchased $1.8 billion of U.S.-produced specialty crops products for use by federal nutrition assistance programs to deliver food to schools, food banks, and households in communities across the country and to international food aid programs assisting vulnerable populations around the world.

 


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