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Research Grants Drilldown: Small and Medium Farms and Rural Communities

April 6, 2010

This is the first in a series of articles drilling down into some sections of the six Request for Applications (RFAs) recently released by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) for the 2010 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).Look out over the course of this week for more information on other opportunities in research on local and regional food systems, plant breeding and climate change, and organic agriculture.

The Foundational Program within AFRI provides competitive “research-only” grants in six key areas which correspond to the overarching grant categories from the farm bill.  Each area is subdivided into a number of programs.

The new RFA collapses two long-standing program areas:  Agricultural Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms and Rural Development into the new Prosperity of Small and Medium-Sized Farms and Rural Communities Program.

The RFA acknowledges the diverse challenges confronting small and medium-sized farms, which make up 92% of U.S. farms and are critical to the overall prosperity of rural America.  As part of a multidisciplinary approach to addressing these challenges, the RFA is targeting research that, among other things,

  • increases the value of agricultural products through the adoption of environmentally sustainable, economically viable best management practices,
  • increases the accessibility and decreases the cost of inputs,
  • enhances sustainability through appropriate entrepreneurship and small business development,
  • enhances the efficiency and equity of public and private investment in agriculture and rural communities; and
  • develops common methods and practices for optimal landscape design to promote sustainable rural development and reduce rural poverty.

To this end, the RFA includes five program area priorities relating to these goals.  Applicants must address at least one of these priorities directly in their proposals.

  • Develop new multidisciplinary (economic, physical, biological, environmental, etc.) models and tools to facilitate the adoption of new agricultural production and conservation practices, including conservation and carbon offset programs to mitigate the effects of climate change, and in turn, to enhance the prosperity of small and medium-sized farms, including forestland and ranches.
  • Evaluate the impacts of changes in input costs and markets, including credit and insurance markets, and their effects on farm entry, farm transition and farm viability; and private strategy and public policy options for addressing these effects.
  • Promote the sustainability of small and medium-sized farms and rural communities, by enhancing knowledge of appropriate entrepreneurship and small business development strategies, including the use of emerging information technology systems, e-commerce, local and regional partnerships, entrepreneurial networks, value-added processing, workforce development, etc.
  • Evaluate the institutional, social, cultural, economic and psychological factors that affect consumer and producer behavior in rural communities and in turn, enhance the efficiency and equity of public and private sector investment in agriculture and rural communities.
  • Identify optimal regional land use and architectural decisions that protect the rural environment and promote economic development while reducing poverty and enhancing rural quality of life.

In 2009, this program’s predecessor funded a project at the University of California, Davis on Values-Based Distribution networks. These networks allow small and medium-sized producers to aggregate their product, while maintaining differentiation and market premiums that come along with embedded values like environmentally sound production or community-oriented business practices. The project sought to understand best practices in Values-Based networks, as well as key challenges to their success.

There are approximately $7.0 million available in program funds and proposed budgets can include up to $500,000 for project periods of up to 5 years. Colleges and universities, research organizations, federal agencies, private organizations, and individuals are all eligible to apply for AFRI research projects.

No Letters of Intent are necessary. Grant proposals are due July 14, 2010.

To access the full RFA, click here.

For more information on this program, contact Dr. Suresh Sureshwaran, ssureshwaran@nifa.usda.gov, 202-720-7536

AFRI programs are currently seeking qualified experts to serve on review panels. If you do not plan to apply for a grant in this program in 2010, consider serving on a review panel. Click here for more information.

Categories: Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension

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