The Specialty Crop Research Initiative was established to solve critical industry issues through research and extension activities and provides research grant funding administered by the Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

Specialty crop research grant funding

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) was established to solve critical industry issues through research and extension activities and provides research grant funding administered by the Agricul-tural Marketing Service, USDA.

SCRI will give priority to projects that are multistate, multi-institutional, or trans-disciplinary; and include explicit mecha-nisms to communicate results to produc-ers and the public. Projects must address at least one of five focus areas: research in plant breeding, genetics, and genomics to improve crop characteristics; efforts to identify and address threats from pests and diseases, including threats to specialty crop pollinators; efforts to improve pro-duction efficiency, productivity, and profitability over the long term; new innovations and technology, including improved mechanization and technologies that delay or inhibit ripening; and methods to prevent, detect, monitor, control, and respond to potential food safety hazards in the production and processing of specialty crops.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a $3.8 million grant to the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas and others for developing, improving and commercializing drought and salinity tolerant turfgrasses.

The grant will fund a five-year collaborative project led by Dr. Ambika Chandra, the principal investigator and associ-ate professor of turfgrass breeding and molecular genetics at the Dallas center. Scientists from North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Geor-gia and University of Florida will also participate in the study. ―The project will include breeding and testing of Bermuda-grass, ryegrass, zoysiagrass, St. Augustine grass and sea-shore paspalum grass‖, Chandra said. Participating universi-ties will be involved in breeding turfgrass cultivars and developing advanced experimental lines that will be tested at multiple locations throughout the southern U.S. ―Such work is important because these grasses are among those commonly used at parks, golf courses, home lawns, commercial landscape and other areas‖, Chandra said. In addition to breeding and testing, the project focuses on education and marketing as means to share what is learned with producers and consumers. The underlying science can eventually be applied to other plant species, said Dr. Mike Gould, the Dallas center’s director of research. Improving drought and salinity tolerance of food and feed crops would allow producers to expand production onto land where traditional crop varieties haven’t been produced successfully. Turfgrass breeders and Extension specialists from each university along with plant physiologists, social scientists and economists will work together toward achieving the goal, Chandra said. “As an agricultural commodity, turfgrass is not a food, fiber or animal feed; however, it impacts the lives of millions of people in many different ways, including their physical and mental health and social well-being,” the project’s abstract states. The project “will significantly increase the produc-tivity, sustainability and the economic gain of not only the individual state turfgrass programs, but the overall turfgrass industry.”

“Turfgrass Producers International was instrumental in getting turfgrass specifically defined as a specialty crop and therefore turfgrass became eligible for block grants under Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) research grant funding.

Just recently, SCRI funding ($3.8 million) was awarded for researching warm season turfgrass DNA* (see story below) for which The Lawn Institute has committed $60K of matching funding ($20K per year over three years). The conclusions derived from this research will benefit all warm season turfgrass sod producers worldwide. This is a great example of how we can leverage Foundation funds to secure significantly more grant funding via SCRI and other government programs.”

* Project Directors: Dr. Ambika Chandra, Assistant Professor Breeding, Texas A&M University, Texas AgriLife Research-Dallas and Dr. Grady Miller, Professor and Extension Specialist, North Carolina State University – Raleigh. Project Titled: ―Plant Genetics and Genomics to Improve Drought and Salinity Tolerance for Sustainable Turfgrass Production in the Southern United States