Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor | Richard A. Ball, Commissioner
Jola Szubielski, Lisa Koumjian 518-457-0752

November 01, 2016

State Agriculture Commissioner Announces $1.1 Million for Specialty Crop Research and Education Projects to Strengthen Agricultural Industry

Funds support research and grower education projects to boost competitiveness of New York farms and enhance long-term viability of agri-businesses

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today announced awards totaling nearly $1.1 million for eight projects to strengthen New York agriculture through research, protection and promotion of the state’s specialty crops. Funding is provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and supports projects designed to boost the competitiveness of New York farms and improve the long-term viability of agri-businesses.

Commissioner Ball said, “Specialty crops are as important to the agricultural industry as they are to our health. These grants will help farmers overcome some of the critical challenges they face when growing these crops and allow for a stronger and safer food supply. By increasing our access to these healthy food options, we are also taking an important step to protecting the well-being of all New Yorkers.”

Specialty crops include a variety of agricultural products, including fruits and vegetables, honey, herbs, shrubs and commercially-grown trees. Many of the specialty crops grown in New York rank highly in the nation in terms of production and economic value. New York ranks second in production of apples, maple syrup, cabbage and snap beans, third in grapes, and fourth in pears.

Five grants were awarded that will support research and grower education projects based at Cornell University. In addition, one grant was awarded to the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of NY. Projects were evaluated and recommended for funding by the farmer review panels and board of the New York Farm Viability Institute (NYFVI), which supports the program on behalf of the NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Together, these projects will provide innovative solutions to many of the challenges that effect the profitability of local farming operations. They will also create new opportunities for growers by enhancing the quality of several New York specialty crops and allowing consumers to enjoy them for a longer part of the season. By utilizing these solutions, New York farmers will be able to better protect their crops, enhance and diversify their operations and remain competitive.

Jim Bittner, Bittner-Singer Orchards and Chair of the New York Farm Viability Institute, said, “The farmers on our review panels did an outstanding job selecting projects that will help NY growers bring to market a diverse range of foods that will connect with today’s consumers. Whether improving the storage capability of apples, fighting diseases in garlic and onions, or increasing the availability of New York grown Shiitake mushrooms the outcomes of these projects will be a win for farmers and consumers.”

Kathryn J. Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University, said, "Thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and the New York Farm Viability Institute, Cornell’s research will continue to empower Empire State farmers to remain competitive and to provide New Yorkers with wholesome and safe foods to feed their families. From products that spice up our meals to those that spruce up our holidays, CALS is committed to connecting the people of New York State with New York State produce.”

The following projects were awarded funding:

  • $99,801 to test new kale varieties both in the field and at the market. The project will conduct on-farm evaluation trials, as well as consumer taste tests.  The successful varieties will create new opportunities for specialty crop producers and tasty new choices for consumers.
  • $99,962 to better understand the cause of Stemphyium Leaf Blight (SLB) in onions. SLB, which has emerged in recent years, is reducing the yield and harvest quality of onions. The research will identify SLB resistant varieties and the best agronomic practices for integrated management of this disease.
  • $98,429 to develop a standard test for moisture content and freshness of real fir trees. This test will help wholesalers and retailers ensure they are providing fresh cut trees to holiday shoppers. The project is led by the Christmas Tree Farmers Association of NY in partnership with the State University of New York –College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry (SUNY-ESF).
  • $95,507 to build predictive models that will allow growers to understand which of their McIntosh, Cortland, Red Delicious and Ruby Frost apples are most likely to develop superficial scald, which causes dark spots on the skin of the fruit. The models will also help growers identify which apples are likely to store well. The research will examine the use of dynamic controlled atmosphere to support long term storage of apples without chemical treatment.
  • $77,939 to partner with the Cornell Small Farms Program for the development of training and business planning tools for log-grown shiitake mushroom farmers. The project, which has a goal of helping 36 new farmers develop and implement woodland mushroom production, will include one-on-one business mentoring from experienced growers as well as a full market assessment report for the product in five regions of the state.
  • $75,841 to learn how to help New York garlic growers avoid costly Fusarium diseases in our typically wet and cold climate. Research will be paired with education and outreach to expand general knowledge of field-based disease identification and best-management practices; sources of disease inoculum; and cultural practices which can reduce field-based disease severity.

In addition, the Department of Agriculture and Markets will implement two statewide initiatives that will benefit the specialty crop industry throughout the State. These projects are designed to evaluate water testing hold times in preparation for the USDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule and to increase the amount of locally-grown specialty crops served to students in New York schools through the state’s Farm-to-School program.

Funding for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is provided through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help states improve the competitiveness of specialty crops. The State Department of Agriculture and Markets administers the program in cooperation with the New York Farm Viability Institute. For more information on the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, please visit:

About the Department of Agriculture and Markets
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ mission is to foster a competitive food and agriculture industry that benefits producers and consumers alike. The Department, through its various divisions and programs, works to promote the agricultural industry and its world-class products, foster agricultural environmental stewardship and safeguard the State’s food supply to ensure the growth of the industry.

The Department operates the Great New York State Fair, and administers the Taste NY initiative, the FreshConnect and new New York State Grown and Certified programs. Follow the Department on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

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