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USDA Awards Block Grants to State Cranberry Researchers
Wisconsin Ag Connection - 10/07/2010

More specialty crop block grants have been awarded to state cranberry industry researchers to enhance and further measure sustainability efforts on Wisconsin marshes. According to the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, the grants are awarded by the USDA to help states increase the competitiveness of their specialty crops.

"Wisconsin's cranberry industry is a leader for specialty crops nationwide in how farmers can grow crops in a sustainable manner," said State Ag Secretary Randy Romanski. "Grants like these play important roles in keeping Wisconsin farmers on the competitive edge as the agriculture industry continues to evolve and compete worldwide."

The block grants have been awarded to Rebecca Harbut, an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to study how to use soil moisture probes to conserve water on cranberry marshes. She will also conduct a separate study on how automated irrigation systems that are used for frost protection can be used to reduce production costs and increase water use efficiency in cranberry production. A third grant was awarded to Jed Colquhoun, also an associate professor of horticulture at Madison, to develop new and test existing sustainability standards for cranberry production. Additionally, a grant was awarded to the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center to create an online marketplace for Wisconsin-made cranberry products.

WSCGA Director Tom Lochner says the grants come on the heels of an important survey released this year by the University of Wisconsin on how state cranberry growers have made great strides in sustainability over the past 20 years.

"At harvest time we are reminded that ultimately, we're putting food on the grocery store shelves, and now more than ever, people want to know that those foods are produced in an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way," Lochner says. "That's what we are aiming to do."

Wisconsin is projected to produce a crop of 4.35 million barrels this harvest season, which is a 10 percent increase over last year's crop. The state produces more than half of the world's cranberry supply and has been harvesting the berries since the 1830s.

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