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, specialty crop producers 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) provides competitive grants for 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 being scientists from different backgrounds together to address farm to table issues in the specialty crop industry and combine it with outreach to ensure that the research is translated into practical information that producers can use.

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.

SCRI is administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

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

  • Research in plant breeding, genetics, genomics, and other methods to improve crop characteristics
  • Efforts to identify and address threats from pests and diseases
  • 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, the most recent farm bill designates $25 million a year to be set aside for citrus disease research.

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.  Matching funds at least equivalent to the grant amount are required.  The project period can be 1-5 years, depending on the project type.

In recent years, the following project types have been available:

  • 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 system
  • Regional Partnerships for Innovation to provide the local infrastructure needed to fully utilize future technology adoption
  • eXtension Projects to develop Communities of Practice for the eXtension online educational system
  • Research and Extension Planning projects to provide assistance for the development of quality 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, and State Agricultural Experiment Stations.

In Fiscal Year 2014, for the first time applicants must submit a Stakeholder Relevance Statement (SRS) unless they are applying for a Research and Extension Planning grant.  Only those applicants who submit a high scoring SRS, judged by a specialty crop industry relevancy panel, are allowed to submit a full application.  The elements of the SRS that will be evaluated include the significance of the issue being addressed, the involvement of stakeholder in identifying the issue and developing the project, the plan for disseminating the results to stakeholders, and the involvement of stakeholders in project evaluation.

All SCRI applications are peer reviewed by a panel of experts in the applicable scientific, extension, and education fields.  

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.

How to Apply and Program Resources

SCRI is administered by NIFA and a Request for Applications (RFA) is typically issued once a year in the early spring.  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 about the latest news about specialty crop research on our blog!

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

SCRI was first authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill as a competitive grant program that supports specialty crop research and extension projects conducted by federal agencies, national laboratories, colleges and universities, research institutions and organizations, private organizations, corporations, State agricultural experiment stations, and individuals.

The 2008 Farm Bill 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 amends 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 requires more consultation with the National Agriculture Research, Education, Extension, and Economic Advisory Board.

The 2014 Farm Bill increases mandatory funding for SCRI to $80 million each year through Fiscal Year 2018.  Of that amount, $25 million is set aside for citrus disease research.  The 2014 Farm Bill also provides permanent baseline funding for future years beyond the life of the current farm bill.  Thus the total ten-year cost of the program is $800 million.

Specialty Crop Research Initiative

Fiscal Year Total Funding (millions)
2014 $80
2015 $80
2016 $80
2017 $80
2018 $80
2019 $80
5 yr total $400
10 yr total $800 

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 7306 of the Agriculture Act of 2014 reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and makes several changes to the program, noted above.