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RD’s ReConnect Program: Supporting Agricultural Innovation by Bridging the Digital Divide

Often when we think of rural broadband, we think about how internet access has revolutionized the way Americans consume media, conduct business, learn, and receive medical care via telemedicine. Over the last two decades, USDA has been making significant progress in connecting rural communities to the same telecommunications infrastructure enjoyed by their urban counterparts. However, the untapped potential of high-speed broadband also extends into the new technologies farmers and ranchers use to feed and clothe the world.

Automation Helps Solve Specialty Crop Challenges

With support from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Multistate Research Fund, researchers at 17 land-grant universities are working together to develop automated systems that work well for labor-intensive specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery plants. A multi-state collaborative approach lifts the burden of research and development from a single specialty crop sector and spurs major advances.

Value-Added Ag Products Help Home Cooks and Bakers Experiment in the Kitchen

In recent months, people around the world have found new ways to spend time at home. Many Americans have picked up hobbies like arts and crafts, working out, and – of course – cooking and baking. You may not know that many popular recipes feature value-added products. A value-added product is one that has had a change in its original physical state or form – such as milling wheat into flour and making fruit into jam. The method of production (organic, for example) and the way it is marketed can also enhance value. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, 33,523 farms produced value-added products in 2017, totaling $4.04 billion in sales.

The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and Automation Explored

U.S. specialty crop producers face a variety of challenges that require a diverse set of solutions. From labor shortages and rising production costs that threatened the health of Florida’s strawberry industry to water supply challenges that stymied North Dakota’s vegetable yields, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) has helped producers bring to life innovative ideas in automation.

Enjoy Those Strawberries Longer: PhylloLux Innovation Leads the Way

We’ve all enjoyed some delicious strawberries this summer, but a short-shelf life can limit that enjoyment. One of the biggest challenges in U.S. strawberry production is managing diseases and pests. The fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea results in gray mold, or the unappetizing gray fuzz that can quickly appear on strawberries all too soon after we get them home. Growers typically apply fungicides on a weekly basis to control gray mold as well as other fungal diseases.

Bringing Technology to Specialty Crops

Each day we use technologies to solve problems and accomplish tasks that once would have taken much longer. Whether facial recognition software, a smart thermostat, or a robotic vacuum, technology has changed the way we live and work. Farmers are also using technology to make production of specialty crops, such as fruits, vegetables, and tree nuts, more efficient. These crops make up one third of U.S. crop production sales and one sixth of U.S. agricultural sales.