Researchers said they were among the most successful nationwide in winning competitive grants through the USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
The university is getting $3.3 million to research specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables, but have their hands in roughly $10 million of a total $28 million in nationwide research.
"We have teams that have developed over the years," said Director of Agricultural Research Center Ralph Cavalieri. "...teams of researchers, teams of extension specialists, county agents. So, when the new program came along, we were just ideally positioned to apply for these new funds."
Cavalieri credits quick action following the June signing of the Farm Bill. A big chunk of the money, just more than $2.2 million, will go toward Integrated Pest Management, to find practices with a minimum of environmental impact.
"It’s to add to the mix of things that the industry will be able to use to control pests," said Cavalieri.
Another big focus will be on automation, how to trim trees without paying labor costs. Cavalieri said, while the practice would cut a number of jobs, it is what will eventually have to happen in order for growers to compete.
"Sensors, robotic platforms, and so forth," said Cavalieri. "Labor is a huge cost in the production of tree fruit and other horticultural crops, as much as 70 percent of the cost of production. It's essential, to maintain international competitiveness, that we address these issues."