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USDA Hosts Specialty Crop Research Workshop


USDA Under Secretaries Gale Buchanan and Bruce Knight addressed academic, industry and federal specialty crop stakeholders at a specialty crops research workshop hosted by USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (CSREES) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

“U.S. specialty crop producers and processors face challenges from foreign competition, environmental regulations, consumer concerns about health and product quality, and escalating production costs,” Buchanan said. “As highlighted by the meetings this week, advanced solutions to mechanization and harvesting issues are critical. These are all challenges agricultural research can help solve.”

The workshop focused on identifying engineering science and technology industry research needs and developing a research agenda to meet those needs. Automation, robotics, precision agriculture, sensors and other advanced technologies are needed to help producers and the specialty crop industry become more efficient, productive and sustainable.

In response to these challenges, the Bush administration is recommending in the 2007 Farm Bill the establishment of a Specialty Crop Research Initiative, supported by $100 million in annual mandatory funding to provide science-based tools for the specialty crop industry. The Specialty Crop Research Initiative will address:

-conducting fundamental research in plant breeding, genetics and genomics to improve crop characteristics such as product appearance, environmental responses and tolerances, nutrient management and pest and disease management, as well as safety, quality, yield, taste and shelf life;
-optimizing production by developing more technologically efficient and effective application of water, nutrients and pesticides to reduce energy use and improve production efficiency;
-developing new innovations and technology to enhance mechanization, thus reducing reliance on labor; and
-improving production efficiency, productivity and profitability over the long term
The farm bill proposal also calls for increasing assistance for specialty crop growers through an array of changes that will enhance their ability to compete in the marketplace. These initiatives include expanding mandatory funding for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program and the Market Access Program. TASC assists U.S. food and agricultural organizations by funding projects that address sanitary, phytosanitary and technical barriers that prohibit or threaten the export of U.S. specialty crops. The Market Access Program assists in the creation, expansion and maintenance of foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products.

“Clearly agriculture faces challenges in 2007 and in the years ahead,” Knight said. “But the measures put forth in this proposal will help us meet those challenges. It establishes parameters and policies that will enable American agriculture and individual farmers and ranchers to grow and prosper.”

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit . ARS is the principal scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Visit for more information.


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