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USDA NIFA Projects Producing Stronger, Healthier Produce

Nifa Author
Matt Browning, Public Affairs Specialist

June is National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month, and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supports projects that are finding innovative ways to meet the growing global food demand, fight hunger and food insecurity in vulnerable populations, and ensure that nutritious foods are available at affordable prices.

From stronger disease resistance to longer shelf life, NIFA supports research that is working to improve the quality and availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Precision Combustion, Inc., in North Haven, Connecticut, is studying the use of its compact high-efficiency reactor for control of ethylene and other volatile organic compounds that are naturally generated by produce during transportation and controlled atmosphere storage. The goal of the system is to enable improved storage life and freshness of a variety of tree fruits and vegetable crops while reducing spoilage.

Winter squash and pumpkin are among the richest sources of carotenoids in our diet, and understanding the genetic and molecular basis underlying carotenoid accumulation in these crops is important for improving human health and nutrition. Carotenoids are pigments that produce the bright red, yellow and orange colors in the plants. Scientists at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, are working to characterize established genetic systems that underlie carotenoid accumulation, to uncover new paths to improve the quality of our food, as well as our health. Dietary carotenoids are thought to provide health benefits in decreasing the risk of disease, particularly certain cancers and eye disease.

To overcome the impacts of plant disease, farmers need improved strategies that protect crops but do not affect the safety of the environment and consumers. Scientists at North Carolina State University are developing robust management strategies against bacterial plant pathogens by studying a common threat to peaches. The particular bacterial pathogen being studied is able to evolve resistance to many of the management strategies currently available to treat infections and can be devastating to peach growers.

West Virginia State University is working to enhance resiliency and marketing opportunities for watermelon growers in the United States by launching appropriate grafting technologies to optimize returns on investment and address fruit stress factors. Grafting involves uniting two living plant parts so that they grow as a single plant. It is an ancient technique used by farmers and gardeners to combine desired attributes of the rootstock with those of the donor plant.

Shopper puts fruits and vegetables in cotton produce bag at food market. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock. 

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health
U.S. States and Territories
Connecticut,
New York,
West Virginia
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