University of Pikeville receives part of USDA agriculture research grant

The University of Pikeville (UPIKE) recently received part of a $79.2 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant in partnership with other colleges nationwide to expand its agriculture research. 

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) has been awarded $332,336.26 from the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) as part of the investment to increase opportunities for farmers, ranchers and other growers across the country.

Through the SCBGP, the KDA is funding eight projects. Among the projects is $41,129.51 awarded to UPIKE to utilize abandoned coal mine infrastructure for sustainable mushroom cultivation. This grant will assess the potential for growing regional specialty mushrooms in abandoned coal mines. The project aims to develop and implement a method for testing the feasibility of recycled waste streams in the production of mushroom growth substrates. It will also help develop regional mushroom varieties and test their feasibility for use in cultivation.

UPIKE Assistant Professor of Biology Byron Meade, M.S., is proud that the project was developed to benefit the local communities directly and says through this grant, researchers and students from the university will be able to actively engage in meaningful agricultural research.

“UPIKE is honored to be named as a 2023 recipient of the USDA specialty crop block grant,” said Meade. “I hope that through the grant, we can determine sustainable and economically impactful ways to utilize existing mining infrastructure to grow high-value crops.”

Meade believes coal mines provide near-perfect environments to grow a wide range of mushrooms, many of which fetch high prices in markets nationwide. 

“Students at UPIKE will engage directly with the research and work with local species of fungi to grow our Appalachian varieties, which will be further developed to grow within our mining spaces,” said Meade. “In addition to the high values of the crops themselves, our mushrooms can consume most organic wastes. We can recycle material such as cardboard and produce gourmet edible mushrooms.”