With over 300 different commodities, Washington state has one of the most diverse agriculture industries in the country, and we are recognized around the world as a top producer of specialty crops.
From apples and tree fruit to hops and wine grapes, Washington has cultivated a unique community of growers and producers who are leading the country in agriculture research and innovation. Promoting specialty crop research should be a no brainer.
The Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) supports critical research being done on everything from soil health to pest management in specialty crops.
Research universities, like Washington State University (WSU), and commodity groups that represent different sectors of Washington agriculture apply for SCRI dollars through a competitive grant program.
In fact, WSU is currently leading two national research teams using SCRI funding. Hanu Pappu, a professor in the WSU Department of Pathology, received a grant to study and stop pests and diseases in onions and garlic.
Michelle Moyers, an associate professor with the WSU Viticulture & Enology program, received funding to study fungicide resistance in grapes and raisins. Both of these research projects span across multiple states, but they will have huge implications for Washington.
However, even WSU, the nation’s top recipient of U.S. Department of Agriculture research funding, faces limits in applying for these competitive grants because language left out of the 2018 Farm Bill puts SCRI recipients at a disadvantage.
Most research grant programs administered through the USDA provide discretion to the Secretary of Agriculture to waive a funding match requirement on research projects of significant importance to the agriculture industry. SCRI recipients must match 100% of the federal funds they receive.
This lack of secretarial discretion creates a disadvantage for groups and research facilities looking to pursue larger-scale projects for specialty crops.
Last week, the House passed a bipartisan Continuing Resolution that contained language I worked to include to remedy this discrepancy within SCRI.
By allowing the USDA Secretary to waive a funding match requirement on critical projects, we create more opportunities for world-class research right here in Central Washington. This program is essential for identifying and addressing threats from pests and diseases, improving production efficiency, and preventing potential food hazards.
SCRI recipients deserve to be on the same playing field as other agriculture researchers. As we work to remain on the cutting edge of agricultural innovation, we must empower our universities and research institutions that are eager to pursue groundbreaking specialty crop research.
I will continue to advocate for our scientists and researchers as they work to support our state’s and our nation’s agriculture industry.
Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C.