Many food crops we consume, e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts, herbs, and spices as well as non-food crops such as landscape plants and flowers are considered specialty crops. Specialty crops make up about 40% ($83.1 billion) of the total value of all crop production ($212.4 billion) in the US. The pests that damage crops do not discriminate between major crops (corn, soybean, cotton, wheat/small grains, etc.) and specialty crops. Crop protection technology is often needed to prevent significant damage to crop quality and yield. The agrochemical industry often lacks the financial incentives to expand registration for their products to specialty crops. This is due to limited sales, high crop damage liability concerns and the significant expense to develop the data to support a registration of a crop protection product on a specialty crop. The same situation exists for minor uses on major crops. The lack of crop protection products for specialty crops and minor uses on major crops is referred to as the “Minor Use Problem” and was the basis for the IR-4 Project being formed in 1963 as a means to solve this problem for US growers.
The IR-4 Project operates as a unique partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – both the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) (formerly called the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service or CSREES), and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the State Agricultural Experiment Stations (SAES), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agrochemical industry, commodity groups, and growers. In recent years, additional partnerships have been formed with USDA- Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) which supports international specialty crop export activities, Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to work on selected invasive species, and the Department of Defense’s Deployed Warfighter Protection Program (DWFP) to provide regulatory support for public health pesticides.
From a humble beginning in 1963 with only two staff members and a $25,000 budget to today a staff of 125 full time equivalent members and a budget of over $36 million ($18.9 million direct support and $18 million indirect/in-kind support), the IR-4 Project has made a major impact on U.S. agriculture by providing over 46,000 specialty crop registrations.