Washington, DC - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced 19 grants totaling $36.5 million for research and extension to support American farmers growing fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops including floriculture. The grants are funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

"America's specialty crop farmers face many challenges ranging from a changing climate to increasing production costs. Investing in cutting edge research helps uncover solutions to keep their operations viable and ensures Americans have access to safe, affordable and diverse food options," said Vilsack. "The universities, state departments of agriculture and trade associations that partner with USDA address challenges at the national and local levels to help sustain all parts of America's food and agriculture system, whether the farms are small or large, conventional or organic."

USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) develops and disseminates science-based tools to address the needs of specific crops. The funded projects address research and extension needs that span the entire spectrum of specialty crops production from researching plant genetics to improving crop characteristics; identifying and addressing threats from pests and diseases; improving production and profitability; developing new production innovations and technologies; and developing methods to respond to food safety hazards.

Grants being announced today, by state, include:

Abstracts for this year's funded projects can be viewed on NIFA's reporting website.

Scientists at USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., will use one of these grants to develop new mechanisms to improve food safety and prevent pathogen contamination of fresh and fresh-cut produce at retail. USDA consistently conducts and funds food safety research to generate real-world results for both government and the private sector. Read more about how USDA's food safety improvements over the past seven years are leading to a safer food supply at .

To date, NIFA has awarded almost $400 million through the SCRI program. Previously funded projects include a Virginia Polytechnic Institute project that will help producers reduce pathogens in their water recycling systems, and implement best irrigation practices for improving horticultural profits. A Michigan State University project is helping growers better manage pollinators such as native bee and honey bee populations to improve their specialty crop yields.

NIFA invests in and advances innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability and ensuring food safety.