Because corn, soybeans and wheat are the agriculture industry’s major players, these crops most often come to mind when one thinks about farming.

Major products are corn (28 percent of industry revenue); soybeans (14 percent); fruits and nuts (12 percent) and wheat (7 percent). Other major crops include vegetables and melons, cotton, and potatoes. Of all farms, 48 percent are grain, oilseed, or dry beans/peas, accounting for 53 percent of all cropland revenue (Research and Markets).

But, specialty crops are an avenue of farming that can get overlooked. Our nation has a $50 billion specialty-crop industry with 247,772 specialty crop farms.

Specialty crops are defined as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, nursery crops and maple syrup, which are of exceptional value now.

As the USDA states, “Specialty crops are a big part of what makes our seasonal holidays memorable. It’s difficult to find anything on the table that isn’t the result of the work of specialty crop growers—from potatoes, cranberry sauce, wine and pumpkin, or sweet potato pie to the nutmeg, cinnamon and herbs that season the dishes. And don’t forget the decorations—from Christmas trees and wreaths to mistletoe and poinsettias, all grown by U.S. specialty crop growers.”

Specialty crops are more labor-intensive and require more start-up costs compared to field crops, they come with more financial risk, though annual specialty crops, like pumpkins and sugarbeets, show an increased per-acre profit compared to field crops.

Because of this crop sector’s associated risks, USDA grants are providing funding to individuals and groups for projects to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. In total, 28 grants will be awarded. According to a news release distributed by UC Davis:

“In all, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded more than $46 million through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, established by the 2008 Farm Bill to develop and disseminate science-based tools to address the needs of specific specialty crops.”

The grants invest in the research, promotion, marketing, food safety, education and product development of specialty crops.

Such grants have been awarded to improve lettuce varieties, water irrigation systems, and to develop a commercial brand pumpkin seed, among others.

The Buckeye State touts its fair share of the specialty crop industry.

Ohio Specialty Crops Facts (2007 Census of Agriculture)
  • 6,472 total specialty crop farms
  • 82,335 specialty crop acres
  • 600 maple syrup farms
  • 996 cut Christmas trees and short rotation woody crop farms
To view a list of 2009 grants awarded to bolster Ohio’s specialty crops, visit:

As we continue to celebrate the holidays, what specialty crops are you using in your dishes? What specialty crops do you routinely eat? What specialty-crop projects would be a good investment for Ohio?

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