By CELESTE BOTT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Managing bees and saving cucumbers from disease are just two of the topics being studied in recent specialty crop grants.
This October in Michigan the federal government awarded grants to a dozen food and agriculture organizations for projects that include improving fruit production, promoting cleaner soil and studying crop pollination.
The $1.3 million is divided among 12 recipients, including the Michigan Vegetable Council in Erie, Michigan Farm Bureau in Lansing, Lakeshore Environmental Inc. in Grand Haven and Michigan State University in East Lansing.
These organizations and their projects were selected by the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to receive the federal grants.
The department is in the process of developing an additional regional state grant program to further support such organizations and their food and agricultural research, said Jamie Clover Adams, the department director.
“We’re working on a reimbursement program like these federal grants, but at a state level,” Clover Adams said. “It would focus on a number of factors, like the problems we have getting local foods to different venues, and regulating how much food is enough for those venues.
“We also want to develop new processes and conduct feasibility studies on how to process food better,” she said.
In the meantime, the organizations that received federal aid have a green light for their own projects.
For example, David Smith, executive director of the Michigan Vegetable Council, said that the money will further research on crop disease.
“Right now there’s a soil-borne disease called Phytophthora capsici that, if in soil, makes several crops impossible to grow,” Smith said. “It’s especially harmful to cucumbers, melons and squash. The grant money we receive will go toward studying this disease and hopefully making it less prevalent.”
This research may prove to be greatly beneficial, because Michigan is one of the nation’s leading producers of squash and cucumbers, according to the department.
Ken Nye, a Farm Bureau horticulture specialist, said that his organization will work with the Michigan office of National Agricultural Statistics, using its grant money to conduct a food inventory survey.
“If we know more about the food we produce and what is required to produce it,” Nye said, “we’ll know how to market it.”
This survey will focus on fruit production, which will prove useful because the fruit industry operates on a long-term basis, according to Nye.
“We want to come up with the most accurate inventory data in the industry so we can plan ahead,” Nye said. “The market will be ready, and we can utilize fruit to its best potential.”
Lakeshore Environmental, another grant recipient, is a consulting company that works with food processing businesses.
Jay Poll, project manager for the company, said that its concern—and his concern as a hydrogeologist—is the groundwater used in both the processing and irrigation of crops.
“Putting too much recycled water into crop soil can cause secondary groundwater contamination,” Poll said. “This then causes bacterial growth and oxygen deficiency in that soil.”
According to Poll, the company has found a way to get air into such soil through the insertion of tubes, a method that doesn’t require electrical energy, though it has not yet been widely tested.
With the grant money, the company will go full scale with that project, Poll said.
“We’re looking at a two-fold benefit,” he said. “We can make use of free water with nutrients, which is a definite advantage in drought years like this one. And food processors will be able to properly recycle the water they use.”
Poll said that his company, along with the other grant recipients, is using the funds to further the agricultural industry.
“You figure the system we’re developing might eventually make one acre worth five acres,” Poll said. “This money can only help future food production. This is a great opportunity for our state’s agricultural industry.”
Michigan State University received the largest grant, $300,600, which will go towards at least six different projects.
The university recently received another $1.6 million federal grant that will support their research on specialty crop pollination through the management of bees.
Rufus Isaacs, an MSU entomology professor who will be leading project, said the research will significantly help specialty crop yields.
“Increasingly, people are consuming more of these fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and these all depend on pollination,” Isaacs said. “As the demand increases, it will be essential that growers have the tools needed to ensure they can continue to supply this demand.”
By CELESTE BOTT