(Oct. 9, 2:39 p.m.) The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded $28 million in research grants to aid growers of fruits and vegetables and other specialty crops.

The funding was made available through the USDA’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative, a provision of the 2008 farm bill, according to a department news release.

The initiative has five aims: to improve crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics; to address threats from pests and diseases; to improve production efficiency, productivity and profitability; to develop new innovations and technologies; and to develop methods to improve food safety.

Institutions receiving grants include:

  • Carnegie Mellon University, which received $6 million to study comprehensive automation for specialty crops and $4 million to study integrated automation for sustainable farming.

  • The University of Georgia, which received $1.7 million to explore blueberry production efficiencies through mechanical harvesting, improving fruit quality and safety and managing emerging diseases.

  • Colorado State University, which received $1.7 million to develop risk assessments of sampling methods for evaluating the microbial safety of fresh produce.

  • Purdue University, which received $350,000 to create a multidisciplinary approach to developing a safe and effective chlorine dioxide gas system for controlling pathogens.