MSU researchers receive $7.7 million in specialty crop grants from USDA

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MSU plant breeder and geneticist Amy Iezzoni, who leads the RosBREED project, inspects a cherry tree. (view larger image)

EAST LANSING, Mich.—Three Michigan State University (MSU) AgBioResearch scientists have netted more than $7.7 million in grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to address the critical needs of the specialty crop industry through research and education.

The MSU projects are among $51 million in Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) grants announced by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today. Specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. Twenty-three such grants were awarded to researchers in 14 states with MSU receiving the highest amount of all the universities.

“Specialty crops play a significant role in Michigan agriculture, and these growers and producers have come to depend on the research from MSU,” said Douglas Buhler, MSU AgBioResearch director and College of Agriculture and Natural Resources associate dean. “These grants will go a long way in helping to improve food production and food quality within our state and beyond.”

The MSU projects are:

  • “Optimizing Protective Culture Environments for Berry Crops”– This $2.5 million project, led by MSU horticulturist Eric Hanson, will provide raspberry and strawberry growers with the information they need to select protective structures and plastics that optimize productivity and pest management while increasing profits and minimizing the generation of plastic waste. 


  • “RosBREED: Combining Disease Resistance with Horticultural Quality in New Rosaceous Cultivars” – This $1.8 million project, led by MSU plant breeder and geneticist Amy Iezzoni, will assist U.S. Rosaceae crop (includes apples, cherries, plums, peaches, raspberries and strawberries) breeding programs to more efficiently, accurately, creatively and rapidly deliver new cultivars with market-essential horticultural quality and producer-required disease resistance. This is the first phase of a five-year project funded at $10 million.


  • “Developing Sustainable Pollination Strategies for U.S. Specialty Crops” –This $3.5 million project, led by MSU entomologist Rufus Isaacs, will develop region- and crop-specific integrated crop pollination management approaches to diversify pollination sources and maintain consistent crop yields. (This project was announced in August.)

In addition, several other MSU AgBioResearch scientists—Randy Beaudry, Bert Cregg, Tom Fernandez and Paolo Sabbatini—are co-leaders in SCRI grant projects announced to three other universities. 

“The specialty crop industry has seen a surge both domestically and internationally,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “To provide the highest quality horticultural products, growers need sound science and technology to make informed decisions and stay profitable. These grants help address these needs by providing specialty crop producers with the information and tools they need to successfully grow, process and market safe and high quality products.”




MSU AgBioResearch engages in innovative, leading-edge research that combines scientific expertise with practical experience to generate economic prosperity, sustain natural resources, and enhance the quality of life in Michigan, the nation and the world. It encompasses the work of more than 300 scientists in seven MSU colleges—Agriculture and Natural Resources, Arts and Letters, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science, Social Science and Veterinary Medicine—and has a network of 13 research centers across the state.

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