Washington State University has received more than $15 million in USDA grants for specialty crop research, administrators said Wednesday, Sept. 30.

The university received nearly one-third of the $47.3 million USDA awarded to universities nationwide, placing it among the top recipients in the country.

The WSU grant includes $3.8 million for stem-free sweet cherry research and $3.1 million for hop and mint crop research. Other research areas include biodegradable mulches, fruit breeding, pests and pesticide applications.

The projects are built into university outreach and involve the state's producers, Jim McFerson, manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, said during a press conference. They demonstrate the university's commitment to making science have an impact on producers' lives, he said. "The magnitude of these awards we're getting is astounding for those of us who have been trying for years to invest in science," he said.

Funding for the projects was matched by state and private funds, McFerson said.

Dan Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, said the funds help keep Washington's agriculture industry competitive.

"We're going to lose that competitive advantage if we don't keep ahead of the science," he said. "We're talking about transformational grants that will have large impact on both the quality and quantity produced, as well as reducing the cost."

"We believe the $15 million grant is an example of the expertise of our faculty and the commitment of this entire team towards agriculture in general," WSU President Elson Floyd said.

Specialty crops are those crops not allocated government commodity support payments, such as tree fruit, potatoes, winegrapes, berries and mint.

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