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Ten Virginia agriculture-related projects receive $556,321 in grant funding to advance specialty crop production and increase economic development

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RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced an award of $556,321 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for ten Virginia agriculture-related projects. The project awards resulted from a competitive grant process established by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) for the USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant funds.

“Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry, and in order to stay competitive in a global economy and sustain positive long-term growth in this sector, we must invest in quality, innovative research and technological advancements,” said Governor Northam. “These grants will support projects that improve the competitiveness of Virginia’s specialty crops and generate more economic development opportunities for growers in all parts of the Commonwealth.”

“This announcement exemplifies the Governor’s commitment of keeping Virginia farmers and agricultural producers at the forefront of rural economic development,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “These projects illustrate Virginia’s extremely diversified agricultural interests and further our goal of feeding a growing global population.”

Projects range from helping produce farmers comply with new federal and state laws ensuring produce safety, to expanding the use of mason bees as pollinators or researching ways to develop new maple syrup production capacity. Specialty crops including broccoli and other brassicas, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet corn, honey, tree fruits, melons, strawberries and more will benefit from the grants.

VDACS awarded grants totaling $556,321 to the following recipients and projects:

  • Making Food Safety Certification Attainable for Virginia Farmers While Preparing for Potential Market Changes, Kathlyn Terry, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon
    Appalachian Sustainable Development will enhance the competitiveness of fresh fruits and vegetables by providing training and one-on-one technical assistance to specialty crop farmers across Virginia. Produce farmers will be prepared to obtain USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Harmonized GAP, or Harmonized GAP with Global Addendum certification and will be prepared for Global GAP should the markets make such a change necessary. Additionally, producers will be prepared to meet the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule requirements with the addition of Produce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings.
  • Vertical Farming of Strawberries in Greenhouses with Mason Bees for Pollination, Dr. Lisa Horth, Old Dominion University, Norfolk
    Researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of mason bees for pollination of the strawberry specialty crop within a greenhouse vertical farming layout. This work evaluates the benefits of vertical farming of berry crops, and the use of mason bees for pollination of strawberries. The results will be presented at a national scientific meeting and published in a peer-reviewed journal for dissemination to a wide audience.
  • Exploring Anaerobic Soil Disinfection (ASD) for Improved Vegetable Crops in Virginia, Dr. Steve Rideout, Virginia Tech (VT), Blacksburg
    Researchers will explore ASD in Virginia to assist growers in understanding and implementing this promising management tool. Proper ASD involves incorporation of a carbon source into soil during the bedding/plastic mulch application followed by subsequent irrigation to saturate the soil just beyond the water holding capacity. This greatly enhances the activity of anaerobic soil microbes (by lowering oxygen availability), creating an unfavorable environment for the growth and survival of pathogens that infect vegetables. ASD is a technique that has been investigated as an alternative to fumigation in vegetable cropping systems in California, Florida, Tennessee and Ohio.
  • Assessing and Addressing Educational Needs of Exploratory/Beginning Growers of Hydroponic Produce for Local Markets, Dr. Holly Scoggins of VT, VT and Virginia State University (VSU), Blacksburg and Petersburg
    Researchers will assist exploratory and beginning commercial growers by assessing current needs, evaluating hydroponic growing systems, and delivering educational programs via workshops and development of multi-media educational resources for long-term stakeholder usage.
  • Cider Production from Virginia Grown Apples: Managing Yeast Nutrition during Fermentation for Targeted Cider Aroma and Style, Dr. Amanda Stewart, VT, Blacksburg
    Researchers will develop strategies for nitrogen-rich yeast nutrient management to retain desired fruit aromas during cider fermentation, and will disseminate results to stakeholders through state and regional workshops, extension publications, and industry-led field days. 
  • Model-guided Bloom Thinning Applications for Managing Crop Load and Disease Pressure in Apple Orchards, Dr. Sherif Sherif, VT, Winchester
    Researchers will determine and recommend chemical thinning strategies that optimize crop load, improve fruit quality, enhance return bloom and reduce disease pressure in apple orchards. The project will focus on evaluating chemicals, rates and models that can be applied at the bloom stage to supplement post-bloom thinning applications and to ensure effective management of crop load and early-season diseases. Research findings will be communicated to apple growers and stakeholders in Virginia through the Alson H. Smith Jr. Agricultural Research and Extension Center’s program.
  • Expanding Livelihood Options for Virginia Land Owners through Tree Syrup Production, Dr. Tom Hammett, VT, Blacksburg
    Researchers will seek to increase the competitiveness of the Virginia maple syrup sector by assisting Virginia landowners and farmers in developing new maple syrup production capacity, value-added products, improved markets, and related practices that result in increased awareness of income generation and nutrition opportunities.
  • Building a Bridge Between Virginia Hops Growers and Brewers: Studying the Impact of Terroir and Postharvest Handling on Flavor and Quality, Dr. Yun Yin of VT, Dr. Yixiang Xu of VSU and Dr. Laban Rutto of VSU, Blacksburg and Petersburg
    The overarching goal is to strengthen the working relationship between Virginia hops growers and brewers and enhance the market competitiveness of Virginia grown hops. Research will focus on the areas of the flavor profile and quality of region-specific hops varieties as affected by terroir and post-harvest practices. 
  • Evaluation of Organic and Biodynamic Weed Control Options for Specialty Crops in Virginia, Dr. Jeffery Derr, VT, Virginia Beach
    Researchers will investigate organic and biodynamic weed control methods to determine crop safety and control of troublesome weeds for producers of vegetable, fruit and nursery crops. Research results will be disseminated at grower meetings and field days as well as through extension publications and newsletter articles.
  • Novel Approach to Control Multiple Major Diseases on Nursery Crops with Plant Endophyte, Dr. Ping Kong, VT, Virginia Beach
    Researchers will develop a biologically based technique that targets multiple major diseases affecting a variety of ornamental crops. Results of this study will be disseminated to end users through grower meetings and field days. This technology will enable growers to build crop health into their products, boosting consumer satisfaction and improving the competitiveness of the horticultural industry in the Commonwealth.

The Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 authorizes the USDA to provide funds to the states to promote crops including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and nursery products. When considering grants for the USDA Specialty Crop Program, VDACS gave priority to projects that included the following activities: Assisting farmers transitioning into specialty, high-value agricultural initiatives that address the eligible specialty crops; increasing net farm income through high-value or value-added enterprises; finding new ways to market or add value to specialty agricultural products and/or developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.

For more information on specialty crops in Virginia, contact VDACS’ Division of Marketing and Development at (804) 786-5448.

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