USDA launches initiative to enhance competitiveness of the U.S. specialty crops industry

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Torres Small today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is initiating a new effort to further support the U.S. specialty crops sector and increase the competitiveness of its products as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to build new, more and better markets that catalyze opportunity for American farmers.

“We all count on America’s specialty crops for reliable access to nutritious, fresh foods,” said Small. “Specialty crop producers are hard at work to keep operations profitable while implementing sustainable practices, and President Biden is proud to invest in innovation within the industry to remain competitive domestically and in markets across the world.”

As part of this new effort, USDA conducted a departmentwide review of its current services and programs that support the specialty crops industry and compiled the information into a Specialty Crops Resource Directory. The directory, being launched today, is a one-stop shop for the sector and contains a comprehensive snapshot of USDA’s resources and services for specialty crops producers and businesses in one convenient location.

Additionally, over the next several months, USDA leadership will engage directly with the specialty crop industry and producers to gain feedback on how the department can better address gaps in services and better meet the industry’s needs. Dates and locations of roundtables and other live opportunities for stakeholder feedback are to be announced.

USDA also encourages U.S. specialty crops stakeholders to submit comments on how USDA can better support and meet the needs of the industry. To submit a comment, visit the Request for Information posted in the Federal Register. Comments are due by March 8, 2024. A new specialty crops-dedicated webpage designed to provide information on the initiative is available at www.usda.gov/specialty-crops.

Small is making this announcement as officials from the administration are traveling the country as part of the Investing in Rural America Event Series to highlight how the Biden-Harris Administration’s investments are bringing new revenue to farms, increased economic development in rural towns and communities, and more opportunity throughout the country. Increasing competition is a key pillar of Bidenomics and President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.

Specialty Crop Research Initiative
In addition, USDA today announced that it is investing $70.2 million in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative to support 21 research and Extension projects that address key challenges of national, regional and multistate importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture, including conventional and organic food production systems.

The grant program, administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, prioritizes projects that improve crop characteristics; manages threats from pests and diseases; improves production efficiency, profitability and technological innovation; and mitigates food safety hazards.

Examples of the 21 projects include:
Michigan State University will increase competitiveness and sustainability of the U.S. blueberry industry by developing methods to improve fruit quality and reduce crop loss.

Pennsylvania State University will focus on new pest and disease management strategies for mushroom farms, specifically by transitioning the management of mushroom pathogens and flies beyond short-term reliance on pesticides.

University of Georgia will undertake a coordinated, multistate effort to improve the understanding of the recent anthracnose outbreaks by determining pathogen biology, population structure, host specificity and fungicide resistance profiles of the pathogen causing severe anthracnose outbreaks in cucurbit crops.

Additional efforts to support the U.S. Specialty Crop Industry
Today’s announcement is just one part of USDA’s ongoing efforts to support the U.S. specialty crops industry. Recently, USDA announced the new Regional Agricultural Promotion Program, with $100 million set aside to help specialty crop producers access global markets through targeted technical assistance to overcome onerous trade barriers. USDA implemented new and expanded crop insurance options for specialty crop and organic producers and implemented the 2022 Emergency Relief Program for specialty crop producers impacted by natural disaster events. In August, USDA marked over $1 billion invested in nearly 12,000 projects through the Specialty Crop Block Grant awards.

USDA also continues its support for the industry through its food purchases for nutrition assistance programs, which encourages the consumption of domestic foods. In fiscal year 2023, USDA purchased $1.8 billion of U.S.-produced specialty crops products for use by federal nutrition assistance programs to deliver food to schools, food banks, and households in communities across the country and to international food aid programs assisting vulnerable populations around the world.

For more information, and to stay engaged with USDA Specialty Crops Competitiveness Initiative, go to www.usda.gov/specialty-crops.

About the USDA
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.