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USDA Releases FY2012 Request for Applications for AFRI Program

September 29, 2011

This week the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released four Requests for Applications (RFAs) for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) research program for Fiscal Year 2012.  AFRI is USDA’s largest competitive grants program, funding extramural research conducted at federal research agencies, land-grant institutions and other colleges and universities, state agricultural experiment stations, non-profit organizations, and private institutions.

In FY2012, approximately $264 million will be made available to fund grants through the AFRI program, with a minimum of 30 percent allocated for integrated research, education, and extension projects.  However, the appropriations bill for FY 2012 is still in process in Congress, and therefore final decisions about the overall funding level and the specific funding levels for particular RFAs must await final congressional action in November or later.

The AFRI program was established in the 2008 Farm Bill, and folded in many of the agricultural research priorities of former competitive grants programs such as the Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems and the National Research Initiative.  There are six legislatively mandated priorities for AFRI, which include:

  1. Plant health and production and plant products
  2. Animal health and production and animal products
  3. Food safety, nutrition, and health
  4. Renewable energy, natural resources, and environment
  5. Agriculture systems and technology
  6. Agriculture economics and rural communities

There are seven AFRI RFA’s, including a foundational RFA that funds basic and applied agricultural research that address the mandated priorities above; 5 challenge area RFAs which address large-scale, societal concerns on various topics of specific interest; and a fellowship RFA which provides grants to pre- and post-doctoral students to conduct agricultural research.

For FY 2012e, USDA has released RFAs (below).  Three of these four were not offered in FY 2011, and hence the new RFAs are in a sense the combined FY 2011 and FY 2012 RFAs for these areas.

Climate Change Challenge Area

Pending final appropriations, approximately $12 million is made available in the FY2012 Agricultural and Natural Resources Science for Climate Variability and Change RFA to fund new projects that seek to address climate change mitigation and adaption strategies, primarily through reducing agricultural use of energy, nitrogen and water and increasing carbon sequestration in agricultural and forestry production systems.

NSAC has supported research in this challenge area by advocating for public breeding programs that develop new varieties of seeds that are adapted to changing climates and local conditions.  There is some limited language in the new RFA that speaks to that area, opening the door perhaps to projects that include classical breeding.

See NIFA’s website for application deadlines and USDA contact information for this challenge area.

Food Security Challenge Area

Approximately $19 million is made available in the FY2012 Food Security RFA to fund new projects that are designed to achieve the long-term outcome of increasing food availability and decreasing the number of food insecure individuals.

The program area on Sustainable Food Systems to Improve Food Security specifically addresses many research priorities that NSAC promotes, including local and regional food systems, and we encourage our members and partners to consider collaborating with their local academic institutions on potential research proposals in this challenge area.

See NIFA’s website for application deadlines and USDA contact information.

Sustainable Bioenergy Challenge Area

Approximately $11 million is made available in the FY2012 Sustainable Bioenergy RFA to fund new projects that are designed to achieve the long-term outcome of reducing national dependence on foreign oil through the development of regional systems for the sustainable bioenergy production.

Program area priorities include assessing the impacts of biofuel production on wildlife and pollinators; measuring the socio-economic of regional production systems on rural communities; and modeling environmental implications of land-use change resulting from biofuel production.   Letters of intent are due on October 25th, and final applications are due December 15, 2011.

See NIFA’s website for USDA contact information.

On a related note, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday announced the FY2011 awards for this challenge area, which includes $136 million in funding for five major agricultural research projects in WA, IA, LA, and TN:

  • The University of Washington received $40 million for research on sustainably grown woody energy crops to produce biogasoline and renewable aviation fuel.
  • Washington State University received $40 million to convert closed timber mills into bioenergy development centers, improving the economic potential of rural communities affected by the downturn in timber production by developing a regional source of renewable aviation fuel for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
  • Iowa State University received $25 million to develop a regional biomass production system for advanced transportation fuels derived from native perennial grasses, such as switchgrass, big bluestem and Indian grass.  The $25 million project will study the potential benefits of planting grasses with legumes to provide nutrients to land unsuitable for row crop production – adding value to marginal lands while reducing nitrogen runoff into waterways and increasing carbon sequestration.
  • Louisiana State University received $17.2 million to enable the regular production of biomass for economically viable conversion using existing refinery infrastructure. Through new and existing industrial partnerships, this project will use energy cane and sorghum to help reinvigorate the Louisiana sugar and chemical industries.
  • University of Tennessee received $15 million to develop sustainable feedstock production systems (switchgrass and woody biomass) that will produce low-cost, easily converted sugars for biochemical conversion to butanol, lignin byproducts and forest and mill residues, and dedicated energy crop feedstocks to produce diesel, heat and power.

NIFA Fellowships Grant Program

Approximately $12 million is made available in the FY2012 NIFA Fellowships RFA to fund pre- and post-doctoral fellowships that focus on developing the next generation of scientists who will lead agriculture into the future by solving current and future challenges facing our society.  Fellowship applicants must propose a research, extension, or education project that aligns with either one of the 5 challenge areas or one of the 6 AFRI foundational priorities.  Letters of intent are due on November 8th, and final applications are due January 19th, 2012.

See NIFA’s website for USDA contact information.

RFAs that are still forthcoming for Fiscal Year 2012 include the Childhood Obesity Prevention Challenge Area, the Food Safety Challenge Area, and the Foundational Program RFA, which are expected to be released later this year or early next calendar year.  Each of these RFAs had an FY 2011 round earlier this year.

To view a chart of AFRI programs and proposal deadlines, click here.

To view a webcast about AFRI, click here.

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

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