Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor | Richard A. Ball, Commissioner
Jessica Ziehm

October 15, 2009

Commissioner Announces $1 Million for New York Specialty Crops

11 Projects will Help Fruit, Vegetable, Honey and Christmas Tree Industries in New York

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker today announced $989,664 in grants for 11 projects that will enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in New York State.  Funded and approved by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Specialty Crop Block Grants will help ensure long-term viability of a variety of specialty crops grown in New York State.

“Specialty crops are incredibly valuable to the State’s economy, environment and quality of life,” the Commissioner said.  “Each project awarded today addresses a real challenge faced by growers across the State that costs them time and money.  These federal funds will allow some of the best and brightest in New York State research new varieties, learn new techniques to control proven pests, and share their newly-acquired information with the rest of the industry so that all can benefit and prosper from these grants.  I appreciate the strong support we receive from our members of Congress in securing these funds for New York State growers.” 


            The Specialty Crop Block Grants were available to all non-profits, for-profits, government entities, educational institutions and individuals; however, projects were required to benefit a commodity or the industry as a whole, not just a particular product or provide profit to a single entity.  A committee made up of 14 industry representatives with expertise in a wide range of subject areas was assembled to provide technical review and comments for proposals received.  As required by USDA, the committee and the Department strongly considered the project’s impact on the industry and ability to achieve measurable results in the review and ranking process.


            While eligible projects could have addressed a wide range of issues, the awarded projects primarily focused on specific plant health, pest and productivity challenges – a priority expressed by the industry during the public comment period and supported by the committee during the review process.


            A total of 92 applications requesting over $9.3 million were received by the Department. The awarded grants, which were competitively chosen, average $90,000 each and do not require matching funds.  A list of the awarded projects is attached.  


            Julie Suarez, Director of Public Policy for New York Farm Bureau, said, “As a member of the review committee, I was encouraged by the diversity and breadth of the applications and impressed at the far-reaching impact they will have across the State.  It’s critical to the success of the “localvore” movement and this state’s agricultural industry that we actively promote and market our great New York grown fruits and vegetables, and just as critical that we research better ways to grow these crops in a challenging climate.”


            In addition to the competitively ranked projects, the Department, based on feedback from the industry and advice by the committee, will be using $86,772 to implement a statewide initiative, encompassing all commodities.  With an increased interest to “buy local,” retailers, wholesalers, distributors, restaurants, schools, institutions and the public are seeking a wide range of New York farm products in varying quantities and geographic locations. The New York Farm and Food Directory project will develop an efficient, interactive, on-line directory of farms and farm products that will enable consumers and commercial buyers to easily search for and identify sources of New York food and agricultural products.


Funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to New York State has increased dramatically in recent years, from approximately $129,000 in 2006 to nearly $1.1 million in 2009.  The 2008 Federal Farm Bill provides $55 million in mandatory funding each year to USDA from 2010 through 2012 for this program. Under this scenario, New York will be eligible for a total of approximately $3.6 million over the next three years. As with the 2009 funding, the Department can use up to 10 percent of the funds for administrative and indirect costs.


Specialty crops are defined by USDA as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture), herbs and spices. A detailed list of commonly recognized specialty crops is provided at


New York State produces a wide range of specialty crops that include fruits and vegetables, wine, maple syrup, horticulture and nursery crops. Specialty crops generate $1.34 billion annually in New York and make up one-third of the State’s total agricultural receipts. They also rank high nationally in both production and economic value. For example, New York is the second largest state in the nation for apples, cabbage and maple syrup; third for grapes and cauliflower; and fourth for tart cherries, pear, snap beans and sweet corn.






Listed in the Order as Ranked through the Competitive Grant Process


$199,750 – Reducing the Impact of Phytophthora Blight on Vegetables in New York (Cornell University): Phytophthora blight is a devastating plant disease that has become a significant threat to New York vegetable growers in recent years. This project will educate growers on how to prevent contamination on their farms as well as how to manage those fields that have the pathogen in order to reduce disease severity. It will also develop plant varieties that have tolerance to Phytophthora blight.


$35,055 – Developing a Strategy to Reduce Fire Blight Infection of Apple Rootstocks (New York State Agricultural Experiment Station): Every year thousands of young apple trees die in New York due to the widespread occurrence of Fire Blight, a destructive and costly bacterial disease.  This project will research the role of several key factors influencing the disease in New York’s rootstocks and develop a comprehensive set of industry recommendations to reduce infections. 


$39,189 – Improving Forecasting and Management of Strawberry Powdery Mildew (New York State Agricultural Experiment Station): Strawberries are New York’s most valuable fruit crop and powdery mildew, caused by the fungus Podosphaera macularis, is a serious threat to the State’s strawberry production. Based on an investigation of the pathogen, this project will identify powdery mildew sources in New York, identify the critical periods for infection and develop biologically-based disease management recommendations.


$82,251 – Improving the Competitiveness of the Snap Bean Industry in New York through Resistance to Aphid-Transmitted Viruses (New York State Agricultural Experiment Station): Since 2001, yield losses associated with aphid-transmitted viruses have devastated the State’s snap bean industry, which is ranked second nationally. This project will develop snap beans with resistance to aphid-transmitted viruses, thereby reducing losses in production and improving yields and quality.


$82,816 – Increasing Utilization of Integrated Pest Management Tools in the New York State Christmas Tree Industry (New York State Integrated Pest Management Program):  Integrated Pest Management (IPM) combines information on pest presence and identification with the available methods of control to determine the most effective, economical, and environmentally appropriate method of managing pests. This project will assist Christmas tree growers in increasing their use of IPM tools by demonstrating successful practices on farms throughout the State and creating a state-wide education plan.


$54,450 – Identifying the Health Benefits of New York Peaches and Apricots (New York State Agricultural Experiment Station):  Peaches and apricots are known to contain many proven health benefits, such as polyphenolic compounds, carotenoids and antioxidants; however the specific nutrient contents of fruits produced in New York is not currently available. This project will research and identify those New York State peach and apricot varieties that contain the highest levels of health benefits and develop value-added, shelf-stable products that can be available to consumers year-round.


$189,064 – Testing New Botrytis Leaf Blight Onion Lines & Hybrids to Develop the Best Strategies for Disease Control on Conventional and Organic Farms (Cornell University): Current onion cultivars are susceptible to the pathogen Botrytis squamosa, which causes Botrytis leafblight (BLB). This pathogen is endemic in New York onion fields and significant outbreaks occur yearly. This project will create a coordinated disease control program under New York onion growing conditions using BLB resistant or tolerant onion varieties.


$72,620 – Advancing Adoption of Reduced Tillage Systems in Conventional and Organic Vegetables in New York (Cornell University): New York State vegetable growers have reported reduced productivity and farm profitability due to declining soil health, in part due to conventional tillage practices that compact the soil. This project will promote and support modified Reduced Tillage strategies to enhance soil health, reduce fuel and labor use, build soil resilience to drought and flooding, and reduce field preparation costs (up to 50%). 


$57,025 – Demonstration of Northeast-based Honeybee Production & Disease Management (Johnson’s Honeybee Farm): Commercial beekeeping in New York is currently faced with several significant challenges including the cost of restocking hives each year, the importation of queens from warmer climates that are not adapted to the Northeast, and parasites that lead to disease and substantial production losses. This project will demonstrate a system whereby Northeast beekeepers can produce bees for restocking hives, make mite-resistant bees more available to beekeepers and begin a cooperative program to develop bees more resistant to the latest disease affecting the industry, Nosema caranae.


$90,672 – Reducing Production Costs and Improving Wine Quality through Root Zone Management (Cornell University): New York's wine and grape industry has shown continued growth and achieved recognition nationally and internationally, but continued improvements to wine quality will expand recognition and sales. Excessive vine growth, the result of rich soils and excessive precipitation, can decrease fruit flavors and aromas, and has been identified as a major challenge in the production of high-quality wine grapes in cool climates. This project will explore a potential cost-effective option for reducing excessive vine growth and develop optimal strategies specifically designed for New York’s climate.


TOTAL AWARDED....................................................................................................... $902,892



2009 Press Releases