Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program


Advancing innovations to improve farm profitability and stewardship by investing in farmer-driven research

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program provides grant funding for farmer-driven research, and also plays a crucial role in sharing the results of that research to other farmers across the country. SARE has been supporting sustainable agriculture research for over 30 years. It is the only regionally based, farmer driven, and outcome-oriented competitive research program that involves farmers and ranchers directly as the primary investigators and/or cooperators in research and education projects. SARE is also the only U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) competitive grants research program that focuses solely on sustainable agriculture.

Learn More About SARE:

Program Basics

SARE is a competitive research and outreach program that advances sustainable agriculture across the country. Successful SARE grantees are producers, researchers, nonprofit organizations, and educators engaged in projects that simultaneously address the three Ps of sustainability:

  • Profit over the long term
  • Protection of the land and water
  • People (communities) who depend on agriculture

SARE is administered through USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), and is run by four regional councils. These regional councils are made up of producers, researchers, educators, and government representatives who set SARE regional priorities and oversee grant programs. Technical reviewers also help the councils evaluate project proposals.

In addition to research, SARE also conducts education and extension programs in an effort to increase knowledge about – and help farmers and ranchers adopt – sustainable farming practices. SARE Outreach produces and distributes practical information based on the program’s more than 30 years of research results.

SARE’s four regional offices administer five primary grant programs:

  • Research and Education Grants fund projects that usually involve scientists, producers, and others in an interdisciplinary approach. Many projects involve on-farm research trials, economic analysis, and outreach. The program also funds education and demonstration projects.
  • Professional Development Grants spread knowledge about sustainable concepts and practices among Cooperative Extension Service staff and other agricultural professionals using a variety of approaches, from workshops to educational videos and on-farm training sessions. Proposals that involve both extension staff and producers are preferred, as are partnerships with nonprofits and/or Natural Resources Conservation Service staff.
  • Farmer and Rancher Grants are aimed at producers who want to test a research idea. Projects typically involve on-farm research with crops or livestock, marketing and/or educational activities. Producers are expected to partner with an extension professional or other agricultural advisor, and share their results with others.
  • Partnership/On-Farm Grants are intended to foster cooperation between agriculture professionals and small groups of farmers and ranchers to boost on-farm research and education activities. Projects include curriculum for farmers and processors, on-farm trials, investigations into new approaches to processing or adding value to farm products.
  • Graduate Student Grants support projects led by graduate students enrolled in Masters and PhD programs and whose research addresses sustainable agriculture issues. These are competitive grants and proposals and applicants are eligible for only one grant during their graduate program.

Eligibility

Universities, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individual agricultural producers are eligible to apply for SARE grants. There are different eligibility requirements for each category of grants listed above. Refer to the Request for Applications developed by your Regional SARE program for more information on eligibility.

The Program in Action

Since 1988, SARE has invested a total of $251 million in more than 6,300 initiatives, directing more than $21 million in research funds directly to farmers and ranchers. $20.6 million in SARE funds has gone to projects on conservation tillage, $16.4 million to crop rotation projects, $41.4 million for grazing management and economics, and $31.9 million on research addressing soil health. Additionally, grants for producers scaling up local and regional food systems are being boosted by SARE-funded educators who create tools and training programs to help producers create profitable marketing strategies. Thus far, 350 grants have gone to those working on local and regional food systems; 240 to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and 330 to farmer’s markets.

SARE has helped drive innovation on farms across the country, funding some of the most cutting-edge and relevant research projects among any federal agriculture-focused grant program over its 30 years of operation. Some examples of SARE-funded projects include:

  • New nutrient management tools for dairy farmers in the Northeast were developed thanks to a SARE-funded research team. Because of this project, farmers were able to improve environmental stewardship, profitability, and productivity by using these tools to better understand how nutrients enter and exit their fields.
  • A farmer-led project in California’s Central Valley helped to develop innovative ways to produce more crops using fewer inputs by carefully analyzing methods of conservation agriculture including reduced tillage, diverse crop rotations, cover cropping and precision irrigation.
  • A research partnership with four Georgia apple growers, including the largest producer in the state. This project identified the best native bees for pollinating apples and helped farmers best manage habitat that would allow those pollinators to thrive. After establishing wildflower plots, one farmer attracted such a large number of native bees that their harvest surged from an average of 2,200 bushels to 3,150 bushels!
  • In Michigan, a SARE project is helping to develop the niche market of hops production by using a low-trellis system in order to maximize output and market their product at a premium price.
  • Farmers in Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont participated in six trainings in 2016 led by the Carrot Project, a Massachusetts based non-profit. Participants, like the owners of Skinny Dip Farm in Westport, MA, improved their farm’s profit margins by learning to prioritize financial management. This increased their gross sales by 65 percent and grew their income from $0 to $35,000.

A searchable database of all SARE funded research projects is available on the main SARE website. SARE’s report,  Our Farms, Our Future: 30 Years of Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) 1988-2018 summarizes the work SARE has done over the last 30 years. Free downloads of SARE handbooks and information bulletins on a variety of research issues are available from the SARE Learning Center.

How to Apply and Program Resources

SARE’s four regional offices administer their three primary grant programs. Some regions offer additional grant opportunities for community innovation, graduate student research, agricultural professional conducting on-farm research, and region-specific initiatives. The uses and restrictions on the funds vary by region and year, depending on the specific call for proposals for a given year.

Each SARE region solicits proposals and awards grants at different times of the year. All grant programs have only one application period per year and each grant type has its own application, deadline, and focus.

For additional grant information, contact your regional SARE office:

Find the latest news about SARE and sustainable agricultural research on NSAC’s blog:

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

In 1988, the same year that the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (SAC) was established (NSAC’s predecessor), SAC helped to advocate for funding to create the SARE program. Since then, SARE has remained the flagship research program for sustainable agriculture at USDA, and remains the only farmer-driven federal research program.

In 1990, as a result of SAC’s work, Congress authorized the SARE program and determined that it should be funded at no less than $60 million a year, consistent with the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences. Sadly, the annual appropriations for this award-winning program have yet to reach this level – with the most recent funding cycle providing only $37 million for this successful program with a proven track record.

Beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2014, Congress consolidated funding for the SARE Professional Development Program (PDP) and funding for SARE Research and Education (R&E) grants into a single budgetary funding line. While this did not substantially change the future direction of the program, funding decisions regarding how much of the total funding made available for SARE in a given year should go towards each of these program components is now left up to USDA, rather than Congress.

The program’s legislative requirements have changed very little since it was first created in 1990. For example, while the 2014 Farm Bill did not modify the substance of the SARE program, it did sunset its authorization, meaning that the program now has to be reauthorized in each subsequent farm bill – as was the case in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program Funding (not including sequestration cuts)

Fiscal Year Total Funding (in millions)
2016 $27
2017 $27
2018 $35
2019 $37
2020 $ pending

For the most current information on program funding levels, please see NSAC’s Annual Appropriations Chart.

Authorizing Language

Section 1619-1624 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA), Public Law 101-624 (7 U.S.C. 5801) created the SARE program.

Section 7201 of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 amends Section 1624 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. 5814.


Last updated in July 2019.