Governor Ralph Northam has announced an award of $541,467 in grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for ten 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 to ensure this sector stays at the forefront of our economy, we must continue to support research and technological advancements that enhance the competitiveness of our specialty crops,” said Governor Northam. “These grants fund important projects that will help improve food safety for growers, boost agricultural development, and create new market opportunities, especially in our rural areas.”
“Governor Northam’s administration is committed to rural economic development, specifically protecting, enhancing, and diversifying our range of agriculture products,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “These projects propose to give our farmers new options for crops, crop protection, varieties, farming methods, and more, continuing to support Virginia’s number one private sector industry.”
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
- Developing pilot and demonstration programs in specialty agriculture that have the potential for transferability within rural Virginia.
VDACS awarded grants to the following recipients and projects:
- Optimization of Virginia Pumpkin Production Through Improved Disease Management and Identification, Dr. Davis Langdon, Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center (AREC), Suffolk
Pumpkins are one of the Commonwealth’s top 20 commodities. They grow on more than 2,000 acres and account for more than $10,000,000 in gross receipts. Diseases are one of the most important limiting factors for pumpkin production in Virginia. Researchers at Virginia Tech’s Tidewater AREC and the Eastern Shore AREC will conduct research to determine the most effective fungicide programs at reducing losses to these diseases while improving net returns and producing a helpful disease identification guide to help producers identify problems in pumpkin fields.
- Sulfur Fertility Rates for Virginia Vegetables to Enhance Yields and Increase Fertilizer Use Efficiency, Dr. Mark Reiter, Virginia Tech Eastern Shore AREC, Painter
The Eastern Shore AREC will increase fresh market tomato, broccoli, potato, and sweet corn production by 14 percent by updating sulfur fertilizer recommendations using field research, updates of vegetable production guides, field days, and grower meetings.
- Establishing Time-Intervals for Application of Raw Biological Soil Amendments of Animal Origin During Produce Production, Dr. Laura Strawn, Virginia Tech Eastern Shore AREC, Painter
This study will reduce foodborne pathogen contamination in specialty crops by determining the risk of applying raw biological soil amendments of animal origin (BSAAO) to soils during produce production. These findings will support Virginia tomatoes, cucumbers, and apple growers in establishing best practices for the application of raw BSAAO to fields to comply with the Produce Safety Rule of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act. No prior studies exist establishing safe time-interval(s) between application of raw BSAAO and harvest of produce from Virginia. This project aims to determine the survival of pathogens, such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7, in BSAAO amended soils common to Virginia.
- Agronomic, Post-harvest, and Economic Evaluation of Strawberry Cultivars in High Tunnel and Open Field Production, Dr. Jayesh Samtani, Virginia Tech Hampton Roads AREC, Virginia Beach and Virginia State University, Ettrick
Virginia Tech, in cooperation with Virginia State University, will evaluate agronomic, post-harvest, and economic aspects of various strawberry cultivars grown in high tunnels and open fields and will inform specialty crop growers of the findings through dissemination of the data after collection and analysis.
- Maximizing Efficiency of Plant Growth Regulator (PGR) Spray Programs for Apples in Virginia, Alson H. Smith Jr. AREC, Winchester
Plant growth regulators (PGRs) are used extensively in modern apple production systems to induce branching of young trees, manage crop loads, control pre-harvest drops, extend the harvest season, control physiological disorders, decrease disease incidence, and enhance fruit coloration. The optimal timing of PGR applications may vary due to the different pace of developmental changes (e.g., the time of bud induction, maturity date) among apple varieties. Through the research project, Virginia Tech will determine and recommend PGR spray programs that result in higher spray efficiency, less chemical incompatibility, and higher fruit yield and quality.
- Developing Endophyte Community-Based Approach to Protect Boxwood from Boxwood Blight, Dr. Ping Kong, Hampton Roads AREC, Virginia Beach
Virginia Tech will protect existing boxwood plants from boxwood blight by developing an entophytic microbial community-based technique that triggers resistance in susceptible plants. Results will be disseminated to stakeholders through grower and professional meetings, journals, and on-line extension programs.
- Cider Production from Virginia-Grown Apples: Sensory and Chemical Drivers of Consumer Preference, Dr. Jacob Lahne, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg and Virginia State University, Ettrick
The Sensory Science and Evaluation group in the Department of Food Science and Technology at Virginia Tech will develop a descriptive lexicon for Virginia hard cider that will help to explain the connections among cider chemistry, the flavors and aromas of ciders, and consumer preferences and willingness-to-pay for these value-added specialty crop products. The research group will disseminate these findings to stakeholders through extension publications and regional extension workshops, as well as through industry-organized workshops and field days.
- Making Food Safety Certification and Compliance Attainable for the Virginia Specialty Crop Industry in Light of Market and Regulatory Changes, Ms. 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 and by determining the Food Safety Modernization Act mandated Current Good Manufacturing Practices requirements for produce packing facilities. Seventy produce farmers will be prepared to obtain USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Harmonized GAP, or Harmonized GAP Plus+ certification, with 30 farmers achieving GAP certification. Additionally, 22 producers will be prepared to meet the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule requirements with the addition of Produce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings.
- Tracking the Establishment of Trissolcus japonicus in Virginia, Dr. Chris Bergh, Alson H. Smith Jr. AREC, Winchester
Trissolcus japonicus (T. japonicus) is a recently arrived, Asian parasitoid wasp that attacks and kills brown marmorated stinkbug eggs. The pest is well established in Frederick County, but not elsewhere in Virginia. In summer 2018, with approval of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, T. japonicus was released at 10 locations from northern to southwest Virginia, near sites where specialty crops were grown. At these sites, Virginia Tech will use traps to track the establishment and population development of T. japonicus and changes in brown marmorated stink bug populations. Experiments toward enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of sampling protocols for this important biocontrol agent will take place in Frederick County. Researchers expect to document the establishment of T. japonicus across the release sites in Virginia, document changes in brown marmorated stink bug populations at these sites, and assess improved surveillance protocols for T. japonicus.
- Out of the Woods: Creating a Sustainable Medicinal Herb Supply Chain in Appalachia, Ms. Katie Commender, Appalachian Sustainable Development, Abingdon
Appalachian Sustainable Development will increase the profitability and long-term survival of the forest botanical supply chain in Virginia and beyond by building up planting stock availability to incentivize forest farming, secure profitable markets that value conservation through cultivation, and increase training, processing, and aggregation services to successfully connect forest farmers to growing demand.
For more information on Virginia’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, contact VDACS’ Division of Marketing and Development at (804) 786-5448.