This week, we received excellent press coverage of WSU’s success in the second round of the USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative (SCRI) program. WSU research teams were awarded approximately $15 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture SCRI grants aimed at providing research-based solutions to issues facing specialty crops such as tree fruit, wine grapes and potatoes. WSU will receive nearly a third of the $47.3 million awarded nationally, the most of any institution in the country.
The multi-million-dollar award reflects the aggregation of a number of different grants, including full-fledged research grants ranging between $1.5 and $3.3 million as well as smaller planning grants. Over 30 different WSU faculty members, across eight different departments and two extension districts, are involved in the grants. Successful grants were led by faculty from three different research and extension centers, the Pullman campus and county extension offices.
This outcome reflects a true team effort. It also represents a “perfect storm” – the convergence of several critical factors that all contributed to this incredible outcome.
First and foremost, our success is the product of having a truly world-class faculty working on specialty crop research at WSU. Faculty involved in the successful projects include a healthy mix of senior and junior faculty working across a variety of disciplines. Over the past four years, we have focused our hiring on assembling one of the premiere specialty crop research teams in the country. These recent hires were major contributors as both principal investigators and collaborators.
Second, as noted by Ralph Cavalieri, director of the Ag Research Center, the contribution to our success includes funds from the Unified Ag Initiative, which was passed by the State Legislature in 2007. Approximately $1.7 million were allocated to internal grants, several of which allowed our scientists to lay the foundations necessary to attract federal funds.
Third, tireless work engaging our stakeholders in the development and execution of our specialty crop strategy paid off in many ways. Producer associations and commodity commissions provided critical assistance in the proposals, including providing matching funds which will multiply the impact of the federal funds entering our programs.
A very positive outcome was the active engagement and success of our faculty located at research and extension centers in these proposals. In fact, the majority of the large grants are led by R&E center faculty. This success reflects enhanced leadership at R&E centers, investment in R&E center faculty and facilities, and increased accountability of our centers.
Clearly, several of our grants benefited from the outstanding interdisciplinary teams that were formed. These teams include not only faculty from the various production agriculture disciplines, but also from rural sociology, economics and textile science. Major contributions were also made by the inclusion of county extension faculty in order to ensure a seamless transition from research findings to educational outreach.
The final critical factor was the Specialty Crop Research Initiative itself. The specialty crop industry has longed for such a program for many years, but it did not come into fruition until the 2008 Farm Bill, when specialty crop interest groups lobbied Congress for research funding, as opposed to direct support payments. The development of a program focused on specialty crop production and applied research directed at practical solutions fits our expertise and orientation like a glove.
The result? Unprecedented success!