US – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a substantial investment of USD 70.2 million in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative in a move to fortify the competitiveness of the sector.

This funding will support 21 research and Extension projects addressing critical challenges at the national, regional, and multistate levels, spanning both conventional and organic food production systems.

Administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the grant program prioritizes projects aimed at improving crop characteristics, managing pest and disease threats, enhancing production efficiency, profitability, and technological innovation, and mitigating food safety hazards.

Simultaneously, as a part of this initiative, the USDA conducted a thorough review of its existing services and programs supporting the specialty crops industry, resulting in the creation of the Specialty Crops Resource Directory.

This user-friendly directory, launched by the department, consolidates information on USDA resources and services for specialty crop producers and businesses in one accessible location.

USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small highlighted the industry’s dedication to profitability and sustainability emphasizing the critical role of specialty crops in providing access to nutritious and fresh foods,  

“Specialty crop producers are hard at work to keep operations profitable while implementing sustainable practices,” explained Torres Small.

“President Biden is proud to invest in innovation within the industry to remain competitive domestically and in markets across the world.”

Over the coming months, USDA leadership will actively engage with the specialty crop industry and producers, seeking valuable feedback to address service gaps and better meet industry needs.

To further involve stakeholders, the USDA encourages submissions of comments to on how it can enhance support for the specialty crops industry.

Bipartisan legislation aims to boost specialty crop exports

In a parallel development, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden and Ranking Member Mike Crapo have introduced the Specialty Crops Reporting on Opportunities and Promotion Act.

This legislation responds to obstacles faced by U.S. specialty crops in foreign markets, including high tariffs and burdensome labeling requirements.

The bill seeks to empower American farmers by identifying and addressing unfair trade barriers through key improvements to the annual U.S. Specialty Crops Trade Issues Report.

Key provisions of the legislation include explicit requirements for engagement from the office of the U.S. trade representative, detailed identification of trade barriers, assessments of each barrier’s status under U.S. free trade agreements or international agreements, and public reporting.

The legislation defines “specialty crop” broadly to encompass fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.

Legislators, including Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Rep. David Valadao, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, are set to introduce the House companion legislation, with support from Senators Angus King, Jim Risch, Maria Cantwell, and Susan Collins.

The proposed legislation aims to equip producers and trade negotiators with up-to-date information, fostering collaboration to overcome trade barriers, diversify export markets, and expand opportunities for specialty crop producers nationwide.

For all the latest fresh produce industry news updates from Africa, the Middle East, and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.