Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program

Important Update:

Please note that the Grassroots Guide has not yet been updated to reflect changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill, which was passed and signed into law in December 2018. We are in the process of updating the Guide and expect to publish an updated version in the spring of 2019. In the meantime, please use this guide for basic information about programs and important resources and links for more information, but check with USDA for any relevant program changes made by the 2018 Farm Bill. Also, check out our blog series covering highlights from the new farm bill. 

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

It is often said that farmers know what is best for the land because they have worked it through a process of trial and error. The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program helps formalize and provide funding for this farmer-driven research and also helps publicize the results to other farmers. SARE has been funding sustainable agriculture research for 30 years and is a regionally based, farmer driven, and outcome-oriented competitive research program that involves farmers and ranchers directly in research as the primary investigators or as cooperators in larger research and education projects. SARE is the only 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 whole of American agriculture. 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; and
  • People (communities) who depend on agriculture.

SARE is administered through the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and is run by four regional councils of producers, researchers, educators, and government representatives that set SARE policy and make grants.

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 25 years of research results.

SARE’s four regional offices administer three 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.


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 $203 million in more than 5,100 initiatives. New York has had the most funded SARE projects with 417 grants as of 2014, with nearly half of these grants awarded to individual farmers and ranchers. Pennsylvania follows New York with 220 grants, followed by Minnesota with 219, and Wisconsin with 195. Every state has had at least 10 SARE grants awarded over the past 25 years. In dollar terms, New York leads the way with North Carolina with about $10 million worth of SARE awards.

SARE has helped drive innovation on farms across the country for the past 25 years and has funded some of the most cutting-edge and relevant research projects among any federal agriculture-focused grant program. Some examples of the research that has been funded through SARE include:

  • Dairy farmers in the Northeast now have new nutrient management tools thanks to a SARE-funded research team.  Farmers are 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 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.
  • 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. 
  • Over the many years SARE has been around, the program has made huge contributions in many areas, perhaps none more so than cover cropping, rotational grazing, local and regional food systems, and agro-ecology systems research, as summarized in this “25 Years of SARE” bulletin.  
  • A searchable database of all SARE funded research projects is available on the main SARE website.

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 the 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 grant information, contact your regional SARE office:

Read about the latest news about sustainable agricultural research on our blog!

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

In 1987/88, 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 been 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 $22.7 million for this successful program with a proven track record.

The 2014 Farm Bill does not modify the substance of the SARE program, but does sunset its authorization, meaning that the program will now have to be reauthorized in future farm bills, beginning in 2018.

Beginning in Fiscal Year 2014 Agriculture Appropriations Act, Congress consolidated funding for the SARE Professional Development Program (PDP) and funding for SARE Research and Education (R&E) grants into a single line item. While this does 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.

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

Fiscal Year Total Funding (in millions)
2013 $19.2 R&E, incl. $4.7 PDP
2014 $22.7 (all activities)
2015 $22.7 (all activities)
2016 $24.7 (all activities)
2017 $27.0 (all activities)

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 Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 1624 of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. 5814.

Section 7203 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 1628(f) of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. 5831(f) 

Section 7204 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 1629(i) of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. 5832.

Last updated in October 2016.