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PA Agriculture Department Awards $1.8 million for Plant Pest Research, Sweet Potato Promotion Projects

Harrisburg, PA – Three proposed multi-state projects that seek to improve the nation’s specialty crop industry are now a reality through a partnership that includes the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The projects, overseen by the department, seek to control and prevent plant diseases and increase market opportunities for specialty crops across the United States.

“Pennsylvania is home to a robust specialty crop sector of our agriculture industry that provides a variety of fresh local products for consumers,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “The diversity of these crops strengthens our economy and makes our industry more resilient. Partnerships like these increase opportunities for specialty crop producers across the country.”

The department will partner with:

  • The Pennsylvania State University; collaborating with universities in Georgia, Maryland, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, North Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Louisiana, and Florida. The pest and plant health project, awarded $806,739, seeks to develop a regional approach to prevention monitoring and management of downy mildew on plants in the melon, squash, and cucumber family.
  • The Pennsylvania State University, University of Maryland and the University of Florida will pursue a pest and plant health project, awarded $770,360, to develop a reliable, customized bio-control for fusarium wilt of the tomato.
  • The U.S. Sweet Potato Council, collaborating with sweet potato commissions and councils in Alabama, California, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina, was awarded $293,000 for a project to increase the market for sweet potatoes.

The department also continues to oversee the multistate grant it received in 2016 to combat the Armillaria root rot, a fungus that can kill most species of deciduous and coniferous trees and is particularly devastating to peach and cherry trees. The interdisciplinary project seeks to increase the profitability and sustainability of peach, sweet cherry, and tart cherry operations by limiting crop losses caused by Armillaria root rot. The more than $922,000 grant was awarded jointly to Clemson University, Michigan State University, University of Georgia and the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

The research and monitoring programs are funded through the United States Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Multi-State Program and administered by the state Department of Agriculture. Industry and academic partners select state agriculture departments through which their grants are reviewed and submitted to USDA. Pennsylvania’s is one of six state departments of agriculture whose 11 total projects were selected.

“Our partners trust Pennsylvania to manage these multi-state efforts, and USDA recognizes these projects’ value to the industry,” said Redding. “I’m looking forward to seeing the solutions these teams discover, and how they can benefit our specialty crop producers across the nation.”

For more information on specialty crops from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, visit For more information on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, visit

MEDIA CONTACT: Will Nichols - 717.787.5085

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