As any architect or general contractor worth their weight will tell you, the quality of every building project is dependent upon a solid foundation, followed by making certain the cornerstone is of sufficient quality and workmanship to support the structure design.
Growing healthy food products, such as fruits, nuts and vegetables, is no different. According to the National Clean Plant Network (NCPN), starting a good specialty crop demands clean, disease and pest-free, high-production plant material to assure success on the farm.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established the NCPN following guidelines established by the 2008 farm bill to help maintain the infrastructure necessary for growing disease and pest-free plants, improving diagnostic capabilities and providing therapeutic treatments in specialty crop plants, and establishing sufficient foundation stock.
For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
Since then, USDA has provided $5 million in annual funding toward the project, which is designed for pathogen diagnosis and elimination, to develop clean plant material that is to be made available to states for certification programs for private nurseries and producers, to consult with State Departments of Agriculture and universities, and to use existing Federal/State clean plant centers to accomplish the Network's objectives.
The program was extended and refunded by the Agriculture Act of 2014.
Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the allocation of $5 million to support 19 projects this year under the NCPN, including NCPN-funded facilities committed to providing plant material free of pathogens and pests that can otherwise cause economic losses to the American specialty crop industry, which includes fruits and vegetables and other crops.
"Invasive pests can endanger our nation's crops and food security. They cause billions of dollars in damage each year," said Vilsack. "The funds USDA is making available today will help partners and stakeholders prevent the introduction or spread of plant pests and diseases that threaten America's agriculture economy."
Vilsack said the goal of NCPN grants is to make sure disease-free, certified planting materials are available and ensure the global competitiveness of U.S. specialty crop producers. This year, he said, 22 proposals requesting $7.8 million were submitted to NCPN to support developing and propagating pest-free fruit trees, grapes, hops, berries, citrus, roses and sweet potatoes.
The first priority for funding was given to projects that support existing facilities with established capabilities for maintaining and providing nuclear/foundation stock, and for conducting diagnostics and different therapeutic treatments. These facilities develop clean or disease-free plant material to the nursery industry, enabling growers to establish healthy orchards, vineyards and field plantings.
The NCPN Governing Board, which is comprised of representatives from USDA-APHIS, along with representatives from USDA's Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and members of the National Plant Board, recommended the projects to be funded and the level of funding for each. In all, 19 of the 22 NCPN proposals were approved and included projects in 14 different states.
NCPN facilities receiving funding this year include $1.58 million for grapes, $1.28 million for citrus, $1 million for fruit and nut trees, $455,000 for berries, and $203,000, for hops.
Additionally, APHIS is providing funding for exploratory planning to consider adding roses ($28,750) and sweet potatoes ($19,000) to the network. Funds will support facilities in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington.
USDA says NCPN-supported clean plant centers are recognized leaders for enabling the introduction of high quality, regionally adapted plant materials that support opportunities for international trade while protecting American nurseries and growers.
USDA says the economic, environmental and social sustainability of specialty crop industries and the improved economies of the communities that depend on these industries are the ultimate beneficiaries of the NCPN program.