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$1.1 Million Awarded to Strengthen New York's Ag Industry
New York Ag Connection - 11/09/2017

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball Wednesday announced nearly $1.1 million has been awarded for nine projects to strengthen New York agriculture through research, grower education and promotional marketing of the state's specialty crops. Funding is provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. It supports projects designed to increase the competitiveness of New York farms and improve the long-term viability of the State's agri-businesses.

Ball said, "New York is one of the largest producers of specialty crops in the US, and the quality of these products is incredibly important to the strength of our agricultural industry. By supporting critical research and outreach, these grants will boost the health and resiliency of key crops, help farmers overcome common challenges in specialty crop production and allow them to remain competitive in national and international markets."

Specialty crops include a variety of agricultural products such as fruits and vegetables, honey, herbs, and commercially-grown trees. Many of the specialty crops grown in New York rank high nationally in both production and economic value. New York is a top 10 producer of more than 30 commodities, including the second largest producer of apples, maple syrup, cabbage and snap beans, third largest producer of grapes, and fourth largest producer of pears in the nation.

Six grants were awarded to support research and grower education based at Cornell University. These projects aim to benefit farms growing vegetables, apples, hops and wine grapes, as well as tree nurseries across the State. They will help organic and conventional growers utilize new tactics to manage diseases and reduce plant loss, ultimately improving the viability of New York farms. Projects were evaluated and recommended for funding by the board and farmer review panels of the New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI), which supports the program on behalf of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.

The following projects were awarded funding:

- $99,987 to assess the risk of fire blight on apple and pear tree wood cankers. Fire blight is a common and destructive disease that impacts fruit trees. This grant will also be used to improve accuracy of fire blight prediction models, prevent unnecessary fungicide applications, enable and implement new pruning practices for best management, and distribute the research results to growers.

- $99,902 to produce new tomato hybrids with optimal natural fungal disease control to fight common tomato diseases such as early blight, late blight and septoria leaf spot. This work will lower production costs and loss for conventional and organic growers.

- $98,988 to improve and expedite oak wilt detection methods, and increase outreach and education about oak wilt and the need for early detection. Oak wilt is a highly contagious fungal disease that devastates oak trees, a staple of the nursery industry.

- $97,903 to develop and test sustainable, environmentally friendly, organically approved management strategies to address the threat of spider mites and powdery mildew in hop orchards.

- $99,834 to identify superior seed treatments for early season disease control and to improve crop stands in conventional and organic table beet fields.

- $88,479 to test the potential of soil stimulators to encourage the formation of a beneficial fungus on vine roots that helps plants grow by increasing the surface area of their roots. If these soil stimulators prove effective, they may reduce the need for chemical fertilizers in the vineyard.

In addition, more than $477,000 is supporting three statewide initiatives that will increase the marketing and promotion of New York's specialty crops at one of the largest produce trade shows in North America, support greater use of locally-grown specialty crops on school lunch menus through the State's Farm-to-School program, and help farms implement new food safety standards under the Food and Drug Administration's Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Mike Jordan, Chair of the New York Farm Viability Institute Board of Directors, said, "We are pleased to be part of the selection process and to continue our long partnership with the Department for this program. The awarded projects are chosen by farmers for farmers, ensuring that the funding supports vital research that will help specialty crop production thrive in New York State. From improving detection and treatment methods for crop diseases, to enhancing best management practices and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, these projects are beneficial to both growers and their communities."

Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University, said, "Cornell researchers and extension educators are deeply committed to helping NYS growers to overcome the many challenges they face in production of their crops. Solving these problems is fundamental to our future given the demands of a growing global population on our food supply. We appreciate the support of our state and federal partners and as the state's Land-Grant University, we look forward to contributing to the vitality of our unique specialty crops sector."

Funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help states improve the competitiveness of specialty crops. The State Department of Agriculture and Markets administers the program in cooperation with the New York Farm Viability Institute. For more information on the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, please visit

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