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Idaho ag department awards $1.85 million in grants

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture this year awarded a total of $1.85 million in grant money to 15 projects designed to benefit specialty crop growers in Idaho.

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Several farm commissions and other organizations will receive a total of $1.85 million in grant money this year through the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s specialty crop block grant program.

The money will be used for research, promotion activities and other projects designed to benefit specialty crop growers in Idaho.

ISDA awards money each year through its specialty crop block grant program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The program is designed to solely benefit specialty crops, which include vegetables, fruits, tree nuts, dried fruits, nursery and horticulture crops.

Fifteen projects were awarded grant money this year.

Since it was created in 2009, the ISDA program has awarded a total of $16.5 million to 165 projects.

That money has proved especially important for some of Idaho’s smaller farm commissions, which are funded by growers and have limited budgets. For example, the money has enabled the Idaho Bean Commission to fund several research projects that have paid dividends for the state’s dry bean farmers.

“Those research dollars are a huge benefit for small ag commissions like ours and allow us to do research projects that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to do,” said IBC Administrator Andi Woolf-Weibye.

The bean commission this year was awarded a $133,000 grant to help fund a project led by University of Idaho researchers that will develop advanced diagnostic and detection methods to try to safeguard the health of bean plants in Idaho.

Idaho is the nation’s top bean seed producing state because of a statewide certification program that ensures bean seed grown here is 100 percent disease-free.

This project will help ensure Idaho uses the latest technology to help keep its reputation as the premier bean seed state in the nation, Woolf-Weibye said.

ISDA also awarded a $125,000 grant to a project by researchers from U of I, Boise State University and McCain Foods to study the impact of smoke on the storage and profitability of three common Russet potato varieties: Alpine, Burbank and Clearwater.

BSU researchers received a $165,000 grant to demonstrate the potential of using “pulsed electric field” technology to improve the quality of wine produced from grapes grown in Idaho.

According to the project application, “the implementation of (PEF) technology following grape harvest and prior to wine production has been demonstrated to amplify the quality of the wine product….”

The Idaho Apple Commission received a $175,000 grant to fund an ongoing research project by U of I’s pomology program that is studying the impact of different fruit wall and tree training configurations on tree growth, yield and fruit quality attributes of Fuji apples.

The Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee was awarded a $140,000 grant to fund a project that is investigating the emergence of two onion plant diseases in the region: onion leaf blight and bacterial bulb rot.

The Treasure Valley of Idaho and Eastern Oregon produces almost a third of the nation’s dry bulb onion supply and production costs for farmers can be significant, reaching up to $5,000 per acre. These two diseases “are potential threats to yield and profit for onion producers,” the project application states.

The Idaho Hop Commission received a $30,000 grant to help fund a project led by U of I researchers that seeks to validate real-time diagnostic tests for four key diseases that affect hop foliage and can limit hop yield and quality. This project also seeks to determine the status of an emerging hop pathogen in Idaho and gain preliminary data on the use of spore traps for disease prediction.

ISDA awarded a $91,000 grant to the Idaho Nursey and Landscape Association for a project that looks to multiply species of astragalus, which are economically and ecologically important plants for medicinal purposes, animal forage, habitat restoration and landscaping.

This will be done through micropropagation, which refers to a process where plant material is regenerated to produce thousands or millions of plants that can be transferred to the field.

According to the project application, micropropagation of astragalus “will benefit Idaho nurseries, conservationists and ethnobotanists.”

The Idaho Potato Commission received a $100,000 grant to continue a marketing program in Taiwan that seeks to give Idaho farmers a competitive advantage in that market by developing awareness programs for importers, retailers and foodservice operators.

The Idaho Preferred program, a marketing development division within the ISDA, will get a $222,000 grant to promote Idaho specialty crops. According to the grant application for that project, “Consumer interest in purchasing local products has been very strong and the COVID pandemic accelerated the local trend even more.”

ISDA awarded the Idaho Wine Commission an $89,000 grant to help fund a marketing campaign that targets journalists and social media influencers.

Through targeted efforts, “the IWC hopes to strengthen consumer and media knowledge of the Idaho wine industry and expand sales and production within the region,” the project application states.

The wine commission also received a $124,000 grant to improve weather and data-driven decision tools for Idaho wine grape vineyards. According to the project application, the project is designed to “develop and provide tools that enhance and support decision making efforts for disease control, as well as improving irrigation efficiency.”

The Robotics Vision Lab at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa received a $68,000 grant to develop an app for mobile devices that estimates early fruit yields in orchards. According to the grant application, an algorithm will be implemented in a farmer-friendly app for mobile devices that have an integrated camera and computer in one unit.

According to the application, “The goal is to equip fruit growers with a tool that can support orchard management in a simple but functional app.”

U of I researchers received a $129,000 grant to develop a new tool known as “direct tuber testing” that could drastically shorten the period of decision-making for sales of seed potato lots. The researchers propose to develop a methodology to conduct post-harvest tests in dormant tubers almost immediately after harvest.

This new methodology could replace the winter grow-out test and enhance the marketing potential of Idaho seed potatoes.

The U of I received a $120,000 grant to develop a specialty crop seed health center of excellence. The project aims to provide a world-leading resource for growers and seed organizations in Idaho and the United States.

ISDA awarded U of I’s pomology program a $135,000 grant to continue research trials aimed at proving whether almonds and walnuts can be grown profitably in Idaho. This project is looking at growth, quality, bloom and maturity dates, cold tolerance and oil profiles of fully mature almonds and walnuts.