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From Supply Chains to Regenerative Agricultural Practices, NIFA Awards Over $146 Million for Sustainable Agriculture Systems Research

October 28, 2021

The third installment of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s (NIFA) Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) program has invested over $146 million in integrated sustainable agriculture projects designed to support long-term, ground-breaking research needed to transition our current agricultural sector into a more sustainable and resilient system.

First announced in 2018, the SAS program is one of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) competitive grant programs whose mission is to improve plant and animal production and sustainability and human and environmental health. The SAS program was created to address the impacts of “diminishing land and water resources, changing climate and increasing frequency of extreme weather events, threats of outbreaks of diseases and pests, and challenges to human health and well-being.” The SAS program funds integrated projects that include research, education, and extension to solve the challenges of a world approaching a population of 10 billion by 2050. Like previous projects, the program’s focus is on fewer but larger projects with longer-term research, and hopefully, more durable impact.

This year, fifteen projects were awarded grants to address a range of agricultural issues including groundwater use, decreasing food waste in the food supply chain, regenerative practices, and algal feed additives for dairy cows. The awarded projects were:

  • University of California, Davis – Sustaining Groundwater And Irrigated Agriculture In The Southwestern United States Under A Changing Climate
  • University of California, Merced – Securing A Climate Resilient Water Future For Agriculture And Ecosystems Through Innovation In Measurement, Management, And Markets
  • University of Hawaii – Food System Resiliency For Children’s Healthy Living (CHL Food System)
  • University of Illinois, Urbana – Designing Agrivoltaics For Sustainably Intensifying Food And Energy Production
  • Purdue University – #Diversecornbelt: Resilient Intensification Through Diversity In Midwestern Agriculture
  • Iowa State University – Regenerating America’s Working Landscapes To Enhance Natural Resources And Public Goods Through Perennial Groundcover (PGC)
  • Colby College – Coast To Cow To Consumer: Marine Algae Use To Enhance Milk Production, Mitigate Greenhouse Gas Emissions, And Recover Nutrients
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County – Sustainable Aquaculture Systems Supporting Atlantic Salmon (SAS2)
  • Tufts University – Integrated Approaches To Enhance Sustainability, Resiliency And Robustness In US Agri-Food Systems
  • Central State University – Sustainable Aquaculture Production Of High Omega-3-Containing-Fish Using A Novel Feed Additive (Hemp)
  • Oregon State University – Sustainably Incorporating Hemp Biobased Economy Into Western U.S. Regional Rural And Tribal Lands
  • Texas A&M University – Sustainable Agricultural Intensification And Enhancement Through The Utilization Of Regenerative Agricultural Management Practices
  • Utah State University – Using Smart Foodscapes To Enhance The Sustainability Of Western Rangelands
  • Washington State University – Optimizing Human Health And Nutrition: From Soil To Society
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison – Fostering Resilience And Ecosystem Services In Landscapes By Integrating Diverse Perennial Circular Systems

This year’s awards are a mixed bag when it comes to research that supports the challenges faced by sustainable agriculture. Yet, overall, they are an improvement from previous awards. Several awarded projects will incorporate the use of advanced technologies like remote sensing and agrivoltaics – still out of reach for many small and mid-sized farmers and even explore cell-based/cultivated meat. There are others, however, that address diversifying farms and promoting regenerative practices across ecosystems, improving the supply chain and decreasing food waste, and some working with, and improving agricultural systems in historically marginalized communities.

Research Highlights

  • Researchers at the University of California, Davis aim to alleviate groundwater overdraft and sustain irrigated agriculture in the Southwest US by developing climate change adaptation management strategies, integrated modeling, data, and decision-support tools for assessing the sustainability of groundwater and irrigated agriculture, and socioeconomics tools for groundwater governance.
  • The goal of the project at the University of Hawaii is to initiate an integrated approach to develop a Children’s Healthy Living (CHL) Food Systems Model to identify and test drivers of resiliency in food supply chains, decreasing food wastage and increasing health, food and nutrition security among children to prevent chronic disease in Pacific Islander communities.
  • Purdue University is undertaking a remarkable process to diversify the farms, landscapes, and markets of the Corn Belt. Their researchers note that diversifying crop production and markets will generate a suite of economic, social, and ecosystem services that benefit more people than provided by the current system of predominantly corn-soybean rotations and confined livestock. The project will address barriers to the adoption of diverse sustainable agricultural systems, model economic and ecosystem impacts of diverse landscape scenarios to develop evidence-based policy recommendations, as well as conduct visioning sessions that allow participants to consider ethical choices and sustainability outcomes. This includes working through Extension to support farm diversification and market development.
  • Working with underrepresented minority communities, including the Menominee Nation, Central State University is proposing to investigate hemp as a safe, environmentally friendly feed for aquaculture, educate consumers and producers to expand domestic markets for hemp and trout.  The project will also develop aquaculture certificate programs, establish new aquaculture producers, increase youth interest in agriculture programs through extension programs, and provide training, mentorship, and scholarships.
  • Texas A&M researchers will be taking a systems approach to evaluate regenerative agriculture practices across varying soil textures and climate gradients to determine yield-limiting factors, optimize management practices, and identify barriers to the adoption of regenerative practices across Texas and Oklahoma semi-arid ecoregions. The project will, over the long-term, explore needed changes to cost-share program policies regarding the incorporation of livestock into regenerative agricultural systems involving cover crops.

For the full listing of the FY 2021 SAS program awards, visit NIFA’s website.

SAS Program Background

First initiated in 2018, the SAS program aims to transform the US agriculture system in sustainable ways. Awarded projects must be aligned with AFRI’s six priority areas, as defined in the 2018 Farm Bill: plant health and production; animal health and production; food safety, nutrition, health; bioenergy, natural resources, environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities. Projects can focus on bioenergy, aquaculture, rural communities, human nutrition, food production, food safety, and classical breeding, among others.

Eligible applicants include universities, colleges, nonprofits, and other research organizations. Awards are up to $10 million and projects must “result in societal benefits, including promotion of rural prosperity and enhancement of quality of life for all those involved in food and agricultural value chains from production to utilization and consumption.” Applicants must first provide a letter of intent, and only projects that are integrated (must include research, education, and extension) are considered.

NSAC will publish more information as the program continues to evolve and more information becomes available. Anyone interested in learning more about AFRI overall can visit NSAC’s Grassroots Guide for additional information.

Categories: Carousel, Grants and Programs, Research, Education & Extension

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