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Washington state receives $4.85 million in specialty crop funds

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(The Center Square) – From promoting potatoes at trade shows to exporting blueberries to southeast Asia, Washington state has received nearly $4.85 million earmarked for specialty crop funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Washington’s allocation is a portion of $72.9 million awarded to 55 states and territories through USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program for fiscal year 2023.

The program provides funding for marketing, education and research to aid domestic producers of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops. That can include developing new and improved crops and seed varieties, disease and pest control, food safety, nutrition awareness and improving distribution systems.

Washington State University, the state’s land-grant agricultural school, will receive $2.2 million for nine separate projects. Among them are several aimed at improving potato production: researching methods to resist the pathogen known as potato virus Y, using cellulose nanofibers to protect against potato diseases and improving irrigation management for fresh-market spuds.

WSU will also use funding to research leafhopper insects which cause destructive and incurable X-disease in cherry orchards; improve management of “fire blight blossom blight” in apple orchards; evaluate the use of sanitizers and super-heated steam to eliminate Listeria bacteria in apple storage facilities and shipping containers; study the state’s potential for hazelnut production; protecting honeybees from pesticides; and studying pear harvest and sorting systems to reduce losses while improving eating quality.

WSU will also share a $161,089 grant with the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission to study increasing the number of pear cultivars grown in the state.

Also included in the USDA funding is a $250,000 grant for development of an agricultural leadership program for farmers, supervisors and managers through collaboration by WSU, the state Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

Other funded projects in Washington state include:

$250,000 for a partnership between the Center for Produce Safety and the University of California, Davis, to study the use of antimicrobial wax coatings on harvested apples and citrus fruit to reduce contamination risks.$249,800 for craft cider development through an agreement to be established between the state Department of Agriculture and the Northwest Cider Association to boost market opportunities for 80 cider producers in Washington.$201,526 to the Washington Future Farmers of America to expand youth agriculture education and awareness about the state’s 300-plus unique crops and related careers, including production and marketing.$175,000 to the Washington Blueberry Commission for promotion of fresh, frozen, and dried blueberries exported to Indonesia and Thailand.$175,000 to the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission and 25 partners within the state and in the Netherlands collaborating on an “Orchard of the Future” project incorporating new innovative technologies.$150,000 to the Washington State Potato Commission to exhibit at two global produce-and-floral shows next year in Anaheim, California and Atlanta, Georgia.$134,011 to develop a guide for Washington growers and exporters on pesticide residue compliance in eight key export markets: Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.$49,430 for the Haki Farmers Collective to study the viability of marginalized BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) farmers in the production of culturally relevant crops for southwest markets, including implementation of a trial crop.

“I’m excited about the Specialty Crop Block Grant funding awarded this year and the opportunities it presents for Washington specialty crop producers,’ state Department of Agriculture director Derek Sandison said in a news release Wednesday. “Innovative projects … are critical to ensuring Washington specialty crops remain competitive locally, nationally, and internationally.”

To date, USDA has awarded over $1 billion in nearly 12,000 projects supporting the specialty crop industry, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in an announcement of the grant funding.

“The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is a critical piece of USDA and the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to support small and mid-sized producers and ensure Americans have sustained access to fresh, locally grown specialty crop products,” Vilsack said.

The money is authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill and goes to departments of agriculture in all 50 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

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