NSAC's Blog

Rural Community-based Research Receives $14 Million in Funding

February 27, 2015

Earlier this week, the USDA announced $14 million in funding towards research projects aimed at strengthening rural economies. The awards encompass a wide variety of issues affecting rural communities and small and medium-sized farms including food safety, conservation, marketplace economics, local food systems, and pollinator health.

The funding comes from the Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities (AERC) Foundational Program administered by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI is the largest competitive grant research program in the USDA. It received $316 million to fund research projects in fiscal year (FY) 2014.

Within AFRI’s grant programs, AERC falls within the “Foundation Program” that also includes plant and animal health, food safety and nutrition, the environment, and technology. See our recent blog post which includes details on the current Request for Applications for each of these program areas.

The AERC program supports research that improves the sustainability of agricultural activities in rural areas spanning social, behavioral, economic, or environmental dimensions. Four main categories of awards are funded focusing on small and medium-sized farms, the environment, regional rural development, and economics, market, and trade.

Several exciting new research  projects were funded in this most recent announcement of grants. Some project highlights are included below.

Small and Medium Sized Farms

Small and medium-sized farm grants encourage the development and adoption of new multidisciplinary models to help rural farms make smarter decisions about risk management, innovative technologies, market access, supply chains, and marketing. For instance:

  • The University of Arkansas was awarded $500,000 to lead a project that trains veteran farmers in agricultural and business practices and perform a market assessment for veteran labeled marketing. Partnering the National Center for Appropriate Technology, an NSAC member group, the university will provide training, webinars, and hands-on, technical assistance to veteran farmers with small and mid-sized farms.
  • Kansas State University will use their $500,000 grant to better understand that impacts of value-based supply chains on small and medium-sized farms, which have become an important viable income stream for many commodity and diversified producers across the country.
  • The University of Vermont was awarded funds to identify economic and social barriers to adopting the food safety regulations by small and medium-sized farms totaling $500,000. Additionally, they are working with New England farmers to increase food safety knowledge on the farm and support the adoption of scale-appropriate Good Agricultural Practices.

Regional Development

The Rural Communities and Regional Development program works to enhance agricultural entrepreneurship and innovation to benefit the well-being and resilience of rural communities. These projects benefit rural businesses by identifying the factors that aide in the decision making process to include private sector strategies and public policy options in order to enhance rural quality of life by promoting economic development.

For example, Cornell University will be using $499,374 to evaluate the effectiveness of re-localized food systems as a strategy for supporting rural communities. By developing multi-regional impact assessments and rural wealth creation and retention indices, researchers will follow economic gains from existing re-localized food systems between and within regions, such as the GreenMarket Farmers Markets in New York City that connect over 230 rural family farms and to 54 urban markets.

Economics, Markets, and Trade

The Economics, Markets and Trade program pulls from a more diverse range of disciplines combining economics with social and behavioral sciences, immigration policy, international trade, and marketing. Among the awards for this year are:

  • University of Wisconsin, Madison researchers are evaluating the performance of the seed, fertilizer, and pesticide industries on corn and soybean markets. Building on previous research, they will use $379,234 in AFRI funds to examine the market demand and pricing of farm inputs in imperfect markets to assess the impacts on rural producers.
  • Ohio State University researchers are performing a holistic assessment on the sustainability of the contemporary organic industry. Using a $494,547 AFRI grant, they will assess the potential for future growth considering the volume of international trade, certifying agents, approved and unapproved ingredient reviews, and consumer perceptions.
  • The University of Wyoming has $149,858 to determine the structure and competitiveness of the pollination market to inform beekeepers as they try to keep up with demand for pollination services despite the nation’s declining supply of honey bees. By determining the decision-making process growers’ use to assign value to the services bees provide, beekeepers are better informed to negotiate market wages for their work.


The Environmental and Natural Resource Economics program area seeks to build upon the economic models and tools used in agriculture using an ecological approach. These projects will simultaneously embrace production and resource management sustainability and advance analyses calculating the externalities of natural resource management.

For example, the University of Kansas will be using a $500,000 award to develop dynamic models that allow for the impacts of water use to be studied based on groundwater management strategies varying by uncertain changes in prices, climate, and technology. Once developed, these models will assist in identifying appropriate policies in the face of Ogallala Aquifer depletion.

Additional Resources:

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension

Comments are closed.