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Sustaining Our Salad

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The five-year, renewable grant is part of USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative funding program, made available through the 2014 Farm Bill.

This award is particularly timely, coming just as UC Davis is preparing for a number of events to be held on and around the Oct. 16 celebration of World Food Day.

The grants will support a multidisciplinary research program aimed at leveraging new technologies to sustain the supply of lettuce in spite of changes in climate.

"We will be exploiting genomic technology to address the needs in all areas up and down the lettuce production chain," said project leader Richard Michelmore, a plant geneticist and director of the UC Davis Genome Center.

Broad research expertise

Research will range from identifying genes that are key to developing important stress-resistance traits in lettuce to fine-tuning imaging technologies that will allow growers to remotely assess the status of their crops in the field.

The research team represents a broad spectrum of expertise including plant genetics and breeding, food technology, and agricultural economics. Team members are located at UC Davis; UC Cooperative Extension research stations; USDA research facilities in Salinas, California, and Beltsville, Maryland; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and the University of Arizona, Tucson.

One of the project's strengths, Michelmore said, is its longstanding collaborative relationship with large and small plant-breeding companies as well as with the California Leafy Greens Research Board, which represents growers of lettuce, spinach and other related crops.

Conservation ag grant

A second USDA grant of $9,459 was awarded to Jeffrey Mitchell, a UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist. The grant will be used to convene researchers from throughout the southwest this winter to assess opportunities for applying established principles of conservation agriculture to high-value vegetable crops.

Mitchell, an authority on conservation agriculture and no-till practices, is a faculty member in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, but headquartered at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.

In all, USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative awarded $50 million in grants nationwide for projects ranging from plant genetics research to new product innovation and development of new methods for responding to food safety hazards.