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$100 Million Available for Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Grants

May 19, 2016


Photo credit: USDA

Photo credit: USDA

More than $100 million in grant funding is now available to support farm and food research, education, and extension projects that address key challenges, including those facing sustainable and organic farming systems and rural communities. This support is made available through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) – USDA’s largest federal competitive research grants program administered by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Last week, NIFA released their Request for Applications (RFA) for the 2016 AFRI Foundational program, publicizing the availability of federal grant funding for several different research topic areas. Within those topics are several of keen interest to the sustainable agriculture community, including:

Program Eligibility

A diverse range of institutions and organizations are eligible to compete for funding through AFRI, including state agriculture experiment stations, colleges, universities, federal agencies, other research institutions, national laboratories, private and nonprofit organizations, and corporations. However, due to a USDA misinterpretation of congressional intent in the farm bill, only colleges and universities are currently eligible for projects that combine research with education and/or extension and outreach. See the individual program RFA for additional details on eligibility and restrictions.

Plant Health and Breeding

In total, $33 million will be awarded in 2016 for research projects that address plant health and production. This category includes funding for public breeding research to develop new plant varieties that are regionally adapted to local growing conditions, suited for organic and sustainable production systems, and resistant to emerging pests and diseases. Research project awards can be up to $500,000 for a total project life of five years.

The “Plant Breeding” program priority supports efforts to improve crop productivity, efficiency, quality, performance, and/or local adaptation. Participatory (farmer-based) and field-based breeding projects are encouraged. Additionally, the call for proposals specifically solicits projects on conventional (classical) breeding research that incorporates development of publicly available cultivars that are bred to be adapted to the soils, climates, and farming systems of farmers of all regions. This year, the program includes a new priority focused on specific research concerns identified by Commodity Boards related to advances in wheat and corn breeding. Application deadline: July 28

Additionally, this year AFRI will offer a new priority on integrated management systems. The “Foundational Knowledge of Agricultural Systems” program priority supports research that advances understanding of cropland, managed forest, and rangeland production systems – including sustainable and organic systems. Projects may focus on integrated production systems that enhance plant resilience to stressors (such as climate, pest, disease) or how changes in management or biodiversity impact soil health. Application deadline: August 17

Agro-ecosystem and Cover Crop Research

In total, $15 million will be awarded to projects that support agro-ecosystem research, including nutrient cycling, ecosystem services, cover crops, and sustainable bioenergy.

Agro-ecosystems include crop and animal production systems, as well as pasture, range and forest lands that are actively managed to provide economic, societal and environmental benefits for individuals, communities, and society.

The “Agro-ecosystem Management” program priority specifically solicits projects that develop and evaluate innovative agro-ecosystem management practices and systems for their potential to enhance ecosystem services and demonstrate a transformative approach. Of particular interest are research proposals that address the connection of system diversity to production system functionality, productivity, socioeconomic viability, sustainability, biodiversity, and the production of other ecosystem services. Application deadline: July 21

“Cover Crops for Bioenergy and Biobased Products” is a new program priority this year that will fund research on developing and evaluating regional usage and management of new and innovative cover crops, as well as double-cropping systems, specifically for the use in the production of biofuels or biobased products. Application deadline: July 21

Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities

The RFA includes $17 million to support social science research that examines the interactions between agriculture, the environment and rural communities; consumer preferences or behavior; economies of different scales of production; the profitability of small and medium-sized farms; and barriers to entry for new farmers.

Within the “Economics, Markets, and Trade” program, there is a new focus on research questions especially relevant to the organic community, including a call for projects that:

  1. Examine the economics of coexistence between conventional/GMO and organic production systems, and/or
  2. Evaluate the differences in production costs and scale economies among different sized organic producers.

There are additional areas of emphasis on the economics of food waste, and economic impacts of immigration policy. Application deadline: August 11

There are also research priorities on the economics of conservation policies and behavioral economic analysis that provide insight on what drives decisions about conservation practice adoption and what factors influence a farmer’s choice to participate in conservation programs. Application deadlines: July 14, August 18

The “Small and Medium Sized Farms” program, which NSAC championed and helped create years ago, solicits proposals that enhance the viability and competitiveness of small and medium-sized dairy, poultry, livestock, crop, forestry, and other operations. This program prioritizes research on:

  • Effective strategies to meet the need of socially disadvantaged and small producers
  • Outreach efforts that create opportunities for veterans to enter farming
  • New tools for the next generation of small and medium-sized farmers
  • Feasibility of small to mid-scale processing (including fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables, and small scale meat processing)
  • Effective marketing strategies by small and medium-sized farms (including production contracts and local/regional markets

Deadline for applications for the “Small and Medium-Sized Farm” program is August 25.

Finally, the “Innovation for Rural Entrepreneurs and Communities” program supports research that evaluates the institutional, sociological, or economic factors affecting decision-making and the adoption of private strategies and public policy options to enhance the resilience of agricultural businesses and rural communities. For example, projects may examine approaches to expanding local and regional food systems, such as through food hubs and intermediated markets, in addition to other entrepreneurial research topics. Application deadlines: August 31

How to Apply

Most programs do not require a Letter of Intent (an outline of the proposed project submitted prior to the full application). Interested applicants should check the Request for Applications for the program they are interested in applying for to confirm.

Deadlines vary by program, and range from July to August. All applications must be submitted through Grants.gov. Additional information on how to apply, including application check-lists and guides can be found on the NIFA AFRI website in NSAC’s Grassroots Guide. 


Categories: Grants and Programs, Research, Education & Extension


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