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USDA delivers grants to historically Black land-grant universities

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(The Center Square) — The United States Department of Agriculture is awarding $30.8 million to the nation’s 19 historically Black land-grant universities, including the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and Virginia State University, for agricultural and nutritional research and growing extension programs.

“1890 Land-grant Universities are a vital part of our nation’s fabric,” said Manjit Misra, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, in a statement. “This investment will strengthen the ability of 1890 Land-grant Universities to deliver innovative solutions that address emerging agricultural challenges impacting diverse communities.”

Under the Biden administration, the USDA has awarded many agricultural grants to help producers weave practices into their farming to combat climate change. This round of funding is no different.

UMDES received five grants totaling about $2.7 million. Two center on enhancing “climate-smart agriculture,” while another will study the benefits of non-food bioenergy crops.

One project aims to make grapevines in wine production more heat-resistant to “climate change-related heat stress” through precision breeding and genome editing. Precision breeding and genome editing, according to the non-technical project summary, “involve modification of grape genomic DNA sequences” but are “consumer and ecofriendly inasmuch it disrupts the genome much less than traditional breeding and should cause no GMO-related concerns.”

Another looks to help small and minority farmers slow climate change by adopting climate-smart agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and capture carbon.

Because food-based biofuels are often grown using fertilizer and pollutants, a third project will study the microbiome created by different genotypes of switchgrass—a type of grass that can grow in poorer soil and enrich it, reduce soil erosion, and capture carbon in its root system. While “current biofuel production competes for fertile land with food production,” switchgrass does not. The project hopes to “harness soil microbial resources for enhanced food and energy crops performance.”

VSU received just under $600,000 to analyze the “nutritional profile of ginger grown under deficit irrigation” because ginger has the potential to help prevent and manage obesity, according to the project summary. In addition to other objectives, students are to develop new recipes using ginger and help “disseminate evidence-based health information.”

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