California has received the biggest share of federal grants to enhance the competitiveness of such specialty crops as tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops.

The state received more than $18 million from the $55 million awarded nationwide.

The 68 funded projects in California include developing a quick drying method to cut energy use and improve quality of almonds and pistachios; offering low-income families access to fruits and vegetables at Certified Farmers' Markets; and researching management strategies to mitigate diseases affecting the citrus industry.

"California agriculture is known for its innovators," said Karen Ross, the state's agriculture secretary. "We have identified projects that will take advantage of this tremendous opportunity for our researchers, educators and others in our agricultural community to improve the prospects of California's specialty crop farmers."

By Staff Writer Robert Digitale. Submit items to