Twenty-four grants have been awarded to 20 institutions for research that would help small and medium-sized farm operators increase their competitiveness in local markets while providing greater access to food in their communities. The awards, totaling $11.5 million, are provided by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grant program, the nation’s largest competitive grants program for agricultural research.
These grants were awarded as part of the Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities (AERC) priority area of the AFRI’s 2020 Foundational and Applied Sciences program. This priority area focuses on ways to address on-farm challenges, as well as the promotion of sustainable social, economic, and resilient rural communities. Given the increasing consolidation of farm operations across the United States, small and medium-sized farms have an especially important role to play in strengthening and supporting rural communities. Specifically, research on small and medium-sized farms addresses the development of new models and technologies to help farmers increase their operations’ viability and competitiveness. These research efforts also address alternative crop enterprises, marketing, and scaling up fruit and vegetable production to overcome marketing constraints.
Some award highlights include:
- Rural Coalition: “Community Resilience Through Land Tenure Rights” ($500,000)
- University of Florida: “Changing Labor Markets and Labor Risk Management: Decision-making Tools for Small- and Medium-Sized Farms” ($499,660)
- Indiana University: “Incentivizing Land Access for Small, Beginning and Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers: Research, Extension and Community of Practice” ($499,997)
- University of Minnesota: “Building a Bidirectional Supply Chain for Farm to Rural Grocery to Wholesale (F2G2W)” ($500,000)
- University of Wisconsin: “The Relationship between Farm Size and Farmer Opportunities to Profit from Natural Resources on their Land” ($473,756)
- University of Missouri: “Collective Entrepreneurship Research and Education for Socially-disadvantaged Small- and Medium-Food System Enterprises” ($499,975); “Nudging Landowners and Tenants toward Environmental and Social Stewardship” ($498,833).
For more on these awards, visit NIFA’s website.
Agricultural research underpins every aspect of successful and viable farming, whether it’s a fifth-generation producer looking to diversify their crop rotation, or a beginning farmer interested in tapping into the huge unmet demand for grassfed beef. Research provides the tools for farmers to build resilient farming operations, increase competitiveness, and become more profitable, all while improving the quality of life in their farm communities. Without increased public investments, farmers will not be able to meet future productivity challenges. Further, they will lack the easily accessible and relevant research that is needed to develop sustainable and climate-resilient farming systems. Increasing public funding for programs like AFRI and other federal grant programs must therefore remain a priority for Congress in support of our farmers and ranchers.
The Request for Applications (RFA) for AFRI’s Foundational and Applied Science Program was published for FY 2021 and FY 2022. Over $290 million is available for new grants in 2021, $100 million more than last year as a result of increased congressional appropriations for AFRI. The additional funding will allow NIFA to fund a higher percentage of eligible research projects submitted as well as a more diverse range of projects. The RFA outlines several key focus areas for potential grant recipients, several of which are focused on advancing sustainable agricultural systems. Grant application deadlines vary by program and are between May and July 2021 for FY 2021 applications, and between August and September 2022 for FY 2022 applications. Additionally, some priority areas require a letter of intent and therefore have earlier deadlines. Details on these focus areas and additional information can be found here.
For more detailed information on AFRI, including eligibility and details on how to apply, please see NSAC’s Grassroots Guide on AFRI.