Specialty Crop Research Initiative


Supporting research and extension on critical issues facing producers of fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops

The specialty crop industry in the United States has grown dramatically over the years to become a billion-dollar industry supported by thousands of fruit and vegetable growers all across the country. Like commodity farmers, producers of fruits and vegetables (aka “specialty crops”) also face production and marketing challenges on their farms – such as how to manage specific pest and disease outbreaks or how to develop the right fruit and vegetable varieties that grow well in a given region. All of these challenges require a significant investment in research in order to find solutions and ensure the success of the specialty crop sector. Congress recognized this need when it created the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) – a federal research program designed to help solve a variety of challenges that specialty crop producers face. 

Learn More About SCRI:

Program Basics

The Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI), administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), provides competitive grants to support regional and multi-state projects that conduct scientific research related to specialty crops, the results of which are communicated to producers so that they can put new practices into action to improve their viability, sustainability, and profitability. Specialty crops are defined in law as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture. The key to this program is its ability to award grants to support research and extension needed to address farm to table issues in the specialty crop industry.

SCRI seeks to solve critical specialty crop issues through the integration of research and extension activities. Extension activities are non-research activities designed to bring expertise gained through research directly to farmers and the public at the local level. These activities are often provided through extension offices at the county or regional level, or community-based organizations who work directly with farmers.

SCRI has five focus areas mandated by the farm bill that each receive at least 10 percent of annual funding available:

  • Research in plant breeding, genetics, genomics, and other methods to improve crop characteristics
  • Efforts to identify and address threats from pests and diseases, including threats to pollinators and invasive species
  • Efforts to improve production efficiency, handling and processing, productivity, and profitability over the long-term
  • New innovations and technology
  • Methods to prevent, detect, monitor, and respond to potential food safety hazards in production and processing

Additionally, funding is set-aside each year to specifically fund research and extension activities that address citrus diseases and pests that threaten the viability of the citrus industry. The 2018 Farm Bill expanded the research focus of the SCRI program to include research around specialty crop pollinators, invasive species, soil microbiome, and systems to improve storage life of specialty crops, among others.

Priority will be given to projects that are multi-state, multi-institutional, or multidisciplinary and that include explicit mechanisms to communicate results to producers and the public. The project period can be 1-5 years, depending on the project type.

The following three project types are offered:

  • Standard Research and Extension Projects to support problem-solving efforts
  • Coordinated Agricultural Projects to address multiple components of the specialty crop production, processing, and distribution system, or the consumer and marketing channels
  • Research and Extension Planning projects to provide assistance for the development of future proposals

Eligibility

Entities eligible to apply for SCRI funding include land-grant institutions, for-profit organizations (including small businesses), non-profit organizations, private institutions of higher education, federal agencies, and State Agricultural Experiment Stations.

Matching funds (cash or in-kind) at least equivalent to the grant amount are required.

The Program in Action

Utilizing funding provided by the 2008 Farm Bill, SCRI invested $162 million in grants in 33 states and the Northern Mariana Islands from 2008 to 2012.  Unfortunately, the program expired at the end of 2012 and no grants were made in 2013 due to a lapse in the farm bill.  The program is now back up and running as a result of passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.

Examples of how researchers have utilized funding through SCRI include:

  • Michigan State University used an SCRI grant to conduct research to develop sustainable pollination strategies, integrating biology, sociology, economics, and extension to address growers’ priority pollinator issues.
  • The North-South Institute is using SCRI funding to develop strategies to increase production and access to ethnic and specialty crops produced by Alabama and Florida small farms, including the establishment of local food networks for these crops.
  • Washington State University received an SCRI grant to study biodegradable plastic mulches for high tunnel vegetable production.  High tunnels are hoop structures that growers use to extend the growing season without having to build permanent greenhouses. This investment helped researchers develop new mulches that extend the growing season, but are also less damaging to the environment because they are not disposed of in landfills.  This has helped increase vegetable production in Western Washington allowing by allowing farmers to grow for ten months instead of six.

Abstracts of funded SCRI projects can be found on NIFA’s SCRI page

How to Apply and Program Resources

The application process for SCRI is a two-stage process.

First, NIFA publishes a Request for Pre-Applications (RFPA) – typically issued in the early spring – which solicits pre-application packages.  Interested applicants must submit a Stakeholder Relevance Statement (SRS), letters of support and budget requests for funding. SRS are required for all project types. The elements of the SRS that will be evaluated include: the significance of the issue being proposed, the involvement of stakeholders in identifying the issue and developing the project, the plan for disseminating the results to stakeholders, and whether the project team represent a trans-disciplinary approach.

After review by a NIFA-convened specialty crop relevancy panel, only those applicants with a high scoring SRS will be allowed to submit a full application. A targeted call for full proposals is then published. After the full applications are submitted, full scientific merit reviews are conducted and a final ranking of proposals is determined.

All SCRI applications are peer reviewed by a panel of experts in the applicable scientific, extension, and education fields within the specialty crop sector. Proposals that pass through the SRS process are reviewed and ranked for merit and relevance by peer review committees, with top ranked proposals selected for funding.

More information on SCRI can be found on USDA’s program page.

Read more about specialty crop research on our blog!

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

SCRI was first authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, and provided $30 million in mandatory funding for 2008, $50 million in mandatory funding for each year from 2009 to 2012, and mandated the five focus areas that still exist today. However, when the 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1, 2012, SCRI’s authorization also expired and no further funding was provided until the 2014 Farm bill passed in January 2014.

The 2014 Farm bill amended two of the five focus areas to add other methods to improve crop characteristics, and efforts to improve handling and processing. It also added a second step to the review process for project submissions whereby a panel of specialty crop industry representatives rank the projects. This is in addition to the existing scientific peer review panel process. Finally, the 2014 Farm Bill required more consultation with the National Agriculture Research, Education, Extension, and Economic Advisory Board.

The 2014 Farm Bill also increased mandatory funding for SCRI to $80 million each year through Fiscal Year 2018. Of that amount, $25 million was designated for citrus disease research. The 2014 Farm Bill also provided permanent baseline funding to ensure SCRI funding would continue indefinitely.

The 2018 Farm Bill expands SCRI’s research priorities to include perennials, pollinators, invasive species, pesticide drift, mechanization and automation, and other relevant issues facing specialty crop growers. The bill maintains existing funding, but discontinues the set-aside for citrus greening research. Instead, the new farm bill creates a separate funding stream for a Citrus Greening Trust Fund, which is provided $25 million per year.

Specialty Crop Research Initiative

Fiscal Year Total Funding (millions)
2019$80
2020$80
2021$80
2022$80
2023$80
5 yr total$400
10 yr total$800

Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2018 Farm Bill to be provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. However, Congress does at times pass subsequent appropriations legislation that caps the funding level for a particular year for a particular program at less than provided by the farm bill in order to use the resulting savings to fund a different program. In addition, SCRI is subject to automatic cuts as part of an annual sequestration process established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Therefore, despite its “mandatory” status, the funding level for a given year could be less than the farm bill dictates.

For the most current information on program funding levels, please see NSAC’s Annual Appropriations Chart.

Authorizing Language

Section 7311 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 amended Title IV section 412 of the Agricultural, Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 to establish the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, codified at 7 U.S.C. 7632.

Section 7305 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and makes several changes to the program, noted above.

Section 12605 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 establishes the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Development Trust Fund.

Page last updated August 2019