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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded 28 grants to researchers to help solve specialty crop production issues at a time when the Obama administration is encouraging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said during an Oct. 25 press call.

The USDA's National Institute of Food & Agriculture awarded more than $46 million through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a program established by the 2008 farm bill to help the industry develop science-based tools.

The projects focused on five areas: improving crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; addressing threats from pests and diseases; improving production efficiency, productivity and profitability; developing innovations and technologies; and developing methods to improve food safety.

Ms. Merrigan highlighted several projects funded under the initiative: Cornell University received $3.2 million to delve into establishing a broccoli industry in the eastern United States; Pennsylvania State University is set to explore native pollinators for the apple industry; Colorado State University received $2.4 million to research pest-management techniques for onions; and the Agriculture Research Service in California received $2.6 million to look into sustainable water management methods for vineyards.

This is important research at a time when the Obama administration is encouraging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables, Ms. Merrigan said.

Some of the money is earmarked for food-safety innovations, which is another important topic as Congress is still debating federal food-safety legislation and the USDA is weighing a federal marketing order for leafy greens, she added.