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$34 Million Available for Projects that Enhance Sustainable Usage of Water on Farms

March 30, 2017


Example of micro-subsurface drip irrigation. Photo credit: USDA.

Water is one of the building blocks of life. No one knows that better than farmers and ranchers for whom access to a consistent and clean water supply is critical. Last week (the same week that the United Nations celebrated “World Water Day”), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) announced $34 million in available funding through their Water for Food Production Systems (WFPS) Challenge Area.

WFPS is specifically targeted at college and university-led projects that develop systems-based strategies and new technologies to manage water usage and increase agricultural production without compromising water availability and quality. This year, AFRI will only be funding integrated projects ­– those that include at least two of the research, education, and extension components ­– through their Coordinated Agricultural Project grants or Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement Grants.

AFRI expects to be able to fund seven projects in fiscal year (FY) 2017. However, the Request for Applications (RFA) does note that the availability of funding may be subject to change upon the passage of FY 2017 appropriations legislation. Applicants must turn in a Letter of Intent by 5:00 p.m. EST on May 17, 2017. Full applications are due at 5:00 p.m. on August 2, 2017. To see the full RFA, click here.

AFRI Program Background

AFRI is the largest agriculturally focused competitive research program within USDA. Within AFRI, there are a number of “challenge areas” and “initiatives” that fund a variety of projects, including: the Water for Food Production Systems Challenge Area, Food Safety Challenge Area, and the Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate Challenge Area. AFRI provides funding opportunities throughout the year for research, education, and extension projects geared towards enhancing on-farm sustainability.

Program Details for 2017

Since FY 2016, project funding for WFPS has increased significantly, growing from three to seven projects and from $10.7 million to $34 million in available funding. Along with the overall increase in funding capacity, the total amount that each project can receive has also increased to $5.2 million over a five-year period.

Eligible applicants for WFPS include: (1) Colleges and Universities; (2) 1994 Land-Grant Universities (Native American tribally led colleges and universities); and (3) Hispanic-serving agricultural colleges and universities. Applications from or those that collaborate with minority serving institutions, small to midsized institutions, and/or Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) states are especially encouraged to apply.

NIFA will fund WFPS Challenge Area projects that demonstrate diverse approaches to innovative ground and surface water conservation. The FY 2017 RFA lists four specific priorities; applicants must incorporate at least one in their project applications:

  1. The use of technological tools (such as conventional breeding and genomics) to develop drought- and flood-tolerant cultivars, intensify food production, improve crop and livestock health, or reduce overall water use across food production systems.
  1. Innovative and environmentally sustainable ways to secure and more efficiently use water to produce food, given competing resource demands and varying water availability and quality.
  1. Targeted activities to overcome barriers, disincentives, and institutional or legal impediments so that more sustainable management practices are adopted.
  1. Safe use of non-traditional water sources (such as agricultural runoff, recycled, treated, produced, and brackish waters) across food system supply chains so that total amounts of fresh water used are reduced.

In the RFA’s press release, NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy encapsulates the importance of this program for advancing water conservation, stating that:

“These investments help us develop and adapt resilient water management strategies…in the context of climate variability, extreme weather events, and diminishing resources.”

Food Safety Challenge Area

In addition to the WFPS RFA, NIFA also put out a RFA for projects that fall within the Food Safety Challenge Area. This challenge area seeks to protect consumers from contaminants across all segments of the food chain, and funds integrated research, education, and extension projects to improve the safety and nutritional quality of food. The program is estimated to make $11 million available. Individual projects are eligible to receive a maximum of $1.2 million. Universities – including 1862, 1890, and 1994 Land Grant Universities – tribal organizations, small businesses, and nonprofits are all eligible to apply. Applications for this project area are due on June 21, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. EST – no Letter of Intention is required. For more information and details, check out the Food Safety Challenge Area RFA here.

Stay tuned as we continue to track AFRI grants and awards for FY 2017.


Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Grants and Programs, Research, Education & Extension


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