The Indiana State Department of Agriculture awarded $459,866 to four projects designed to grow the state’s specialty crop sector. This funding was provided by the United State Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.
According to Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who also serves as the state’s secretary of agriculture, specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops. For a full list of specialty crops please visit ams.usda.gov.
“Specialty crops are big business for Indiana. Our state grows over 30 types of specialty crops and ranks as a top five producer in the nation in many crops like melons, pumpkins, tomatoes and mint,” Crouch said. “I look forward to seeing the industry grow from the research funded by these grants.”
Annually, Specialty Crop Block Grants are available to non-profit and for-profit organizations, governments and public or private colleges and universities for up to a three-year project term and will fund specialty crop research, education and market development. To qualify, projects must aim to benefit the industry as a whole, rather than one product, individual or organization. Applications undergo a competitive scoring process, including review by an external scoring committee.
Some of the projects awarded this grant cycle include Purdue University’s Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture developing hydroponic technologies to increase organic lettuce production and stability and Purdue Extension identifying suitable food contact surfaces and best practices for managing these surfaces in compliance with the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule.
Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Bruce Kettler is looking forward to seeing how these projects enhance Indiana’s vibrant specialty crop sectors.
“This funding from USDA is critical to advancing our specialty crop sector and based on this year’s grantees, many different research areas will be impacted,” said Kettler. “Everything from hydroponics to pollinators and from drip irrigation to food safety, these awards will go far in enhancing our Hoosier specialty crop industry.”
Unique to 2021, the ISDA was awarded two separate grants from the USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The projects below represent those funded in March through the first grant solicitation. Currently ISDA is reviewing applications submitted through the second solicitation and expects to announce selected projects in the spring of 2022.
The following list includes the organizations that received funding for the 2021-2024 grant cycle:
Purdue University Department of Entomology – Conservation of Indiana Specialty Crop Pollinators
Project: Purdue University entomologists will partner with growers across the state to evaluate pollination services provided by native pollinators to Indiana’s leading specialty crops. Over 50% of the state’s specialty crop economy is dependent on pollinators to secure high marketable yields. While many specialty growers supplement their crops with honeybees, Indiana is home to more than 400 species of native bees which can supply free and superior pollination services. However, little is known about which pollinator species contribute to securing high marketable yields in Indiana’s specialty crops. Thus, the value of these services is poorly understood and underutilized. The overarching goal of this proposal is to identify and help conserve pollinators for specialty crop production in Indiana. Supporting this goal are two objectives, the first is to conduct a series of surveys across major Indiana specialty crops: watermelon, tomato, apple and blueberry. These surveys will determine significant pollinator species and the relative economic worth of native pollinators to each crop. Secondly, this team will develop extension resources for growers to identify and assess pollination services in watermelon, tomato, apple and blueberry. In achieving these objectives, Purdue University will target meaningful conservation practices that protect these significant pollinator species and sustain high marketable yields in Indiana’s specialty crops.
Purdue University Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture – Increasing Productivity & Consumer Accessibility of Hydroponically Grown Organic Lettuce in Indiana
Project: Many hydroponic growers in Indiana are converting to organic farming and expecting higher profits. Organic production is characterized by low productivity and variable crop yields due to decreased and variable nitrogen availability to crops. In addition, a select group of consumers have access to organically grown produce due to premium prices. These inequitable factors increase risk and negatively affect sustained profits in the organic hydroponics industry. Crop productivity and yield stability must improve for sustained profits in organic hydroponics industry. This will further lower the price of organically grown produce and make it more affordable to all consumers. Increased sales and diverse consumer base are key to sustained profits. Purdue University will develop technologies that will aid in increasing nitrogen availability to crops to improve crop productivity and yield stability in the organic hydroponics industry. In addition, Purdue Extension workshops geared toward educating Indiana growers with developed technology will be implemented. The hydroponics technology will be displayed at 16 Tech Innovation District, located in Indianapolis, for maximum visibility. Workshop programming will include getting started with home hydroponics, the environmental benefits associated with hydroponics, the promotion of the nutritional value of leafy green consumption in the diet, cooking and storage of leafy greens, and promotion of the health benefits of organically grown produce with a focus on serving underappreciated communities facing food insecurity.
Purdue University Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture – Improve Drip Irrigation Management for Vegetable and Melon Production in Indiana
Project: Purdue University will improve Indiana vegetable and melon farmers’ ability to implement precise drip irrigation, which will improve crop water use efficiency and minimize negative environmental impacts that can result from over-irrigation. The team will achieve the targeted goal by developing a watermelon specific irrigation threshold and delivering comprehensive drip irrigation management education to Indiana farmers who grow many kinds of vegetables.
Purdue University Extension – Determining the Suitability of Materials for Use as a Postharvest Food Contact Surface
Project: Purdue Extension will conduct applied produce food safety research to determine the suitability of various materials for use in postharvest settings. As part of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the Produce Safety Rule (21 CFR 112) (PSR) sets minimum standards for equipment and vehicles used in the harvest and transport of produce. This project will study the suitability of materials for use as food contact surfaces on equipment and transport vehicles. This project will determine best practice for management of food contact surfaces, as well as assist growers in complying with the Produce Safety Rule and will be conducted primarily at the Purdue Extension Food Safety Training Hub, located in southwest Indiana, near Vincennes.