March 27, 2019


Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Conservation


The Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) is seeking applications for projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops in domestic and foreign markets. Projects must impact and produce measurable outcomes for the specialty crop industry and/or the public.

Specialty crops are defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as fruits and vegetables, dried fruit, tree nuts, maple syrup, honey, horticulture, and nursery crops.  The detailed definition can be found online at

Eligible applicants include universities and colleges, municipalities, registered nonprofits, state agencies, and councils of government. Projects cannot begin until after January 1, 2020, and must be completed by March 1, 2022. The maximum award is $100,000.  Applications are due to DoAg by 4:00 p.m. on April 4, 2019.

Previous Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) awards have gone to a variety of projects supporting honey bees, hops, apples, pears, peaches, and nectarines, among other specialty crops.

In 2017, Dr. Quan Zeng of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) was awarded SCBGP funding to identify environmental friendly options for fire blight control in Connecticut.  

With a combined annual cash receipt value in Connecticut of more than $29 million, apples and pears are important agricultural commodities that are dramatically affected by fire blight. Fire blight is one of the top apple diseases in Connecticut and management options are limited.

In Connecticut, most growers rely on streptomycin spray—a spray apples and pears have developed a resistance to throughout most apple producing regions in the U.S. 

Dr. Zeng treated fire blight infected McIntosh trees with various biological controls and organic chemicals, and evaluated their effectiveness.  Results suggest that a combination of biological control agents with hydrogen peroxide provide fire blight control nearly as effective as that of streptomycin.

Dr. Richard S. Cowles of CAES was awarded SCBGP funds in 2016, for a project to investigate the breeding of honey bees resistant to the varroa mite.

Beekeepers throughout the U.S. have been struggling to keep their honey bees protected from invasive varroa mites, which parasitize honey bees. Dr. Cowles’ project ultimately will “kick-start” the production of queen bees with hygienic behaviors, and antivarroa and disease-resistance characteristics to potentially reduce the annual winter loss of weak bee colonies.

Dr. Kimberly Stoner at CAES was awarded SCBGP funding for a project to increase the amount of pollinator habitat planted in Connecticut, and to evaluate the benefits of pollinator habitat on pollinators and specialty crops.

With annual losses of honey bee colonies in Connecticut at approximately 50% for each of the last three years, and the disappearance of at least 2 of 16 species of bumble bees, Connecticut beekeepers and growers of pollinator-dependent specialty crops are seeking ways to support both honey bees and other important pollinating bee species.

Dr. Stoner organized an annual pollinator habitat conference, conducted field tours of native plant meadows and pollinator habitats, and organized an on-farm pollinator habitat workshop attended by more than 120 people to address the need for increased pollinator habitat.

Dr. Jim Lamondia of CAES received SCBGP funding to initiate a hops research program to develop varieties for Connecticut growers in response to the high demand by Connecticut breweries for Connecticut Grown hops.  

Dr. LaMondia established new hop yards in Hamden and Windsor, with several hop varieties in replicated plots at each location. Through his research, he published Guidelines for Integrated Pest Management for Hops in Connecticut available at:

Dr. Jatinder S. Aulakh, also from CAES, was awarded SCBGP funding for a project to prevent freeze injury in peaches and nectarines through the application of phytohormones at early and late bud swell stages.

The unusual spring weather pattern in recent years has adversely affected the production of peaches, nectarines, and many deciduous ornamental plants. 

Peaches are very susceptible to freeze injury during late winter and early spring months as the buds begin to swell and mature into blossoms.

In 2016, more than 95% of Connecticut’s peach and nectarine crops were lost due to early spring freeze injury. 

Dr. Aulakh will also determine whether salicylic acid and methyl jasmonate can improve fruit quality and yield in peaches and nectarines at the conclusion of his project, estimated to be in September 2020.

More information about the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, application material, guidelines, and forms are available at or by contacting Jaime Smith at 

Funding is provided through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, and USDA will make the final award decisions.