Farms, especially small to mid-sized and highly diversified ones, face many unique challenges in addition to those shared with other farmers. For example, farmers in sustainable and organic production must manage pests without highly-toxic chemicals and many struggle to access crop and animal varieties suited to their climate, markets, and production systems. Because they face unique challenges, sustainable farming systems require unique, research-based solutions that demonstrate long-term outcomes.
Public sector agricultural research has underpinned the success of our nation’s farmers for over 150 years, and it remains today a critical resource. The Sustainable Agriculture Systems Research (SASR) program (formerly the Agricultural System Competitiveness and Sustainability program) is USDA’s primary internal federal research program targeted at researching the issues relevant to sustainable and organic farmers.
Learn More About the SASR:
The Sustainable Agriculture Systems Research (SASR) program is one of 15 national programs operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). ARS is USDA’s main intramural research agency, funding research conducted by USDA scientists (as opposed to extramural research programs that fund academic, private, and non-profit researchers). ARS has over 90 locations around the world and employs over 6,000 people working on approximately 690 research projects.
The SASR national research program (also known as “National Program 216”) seeks to use interdisciplinary research to optimize productivity, profitability, energy efficiency and natural resource stewardship for all farms – including organic, small, local, and conventional operations. The research conducted by ARS scientists may include partnering with local farmers, stakeholder groups, and educational institutions to conduct long-term and systems-based research.
This national research program develops information and tools – like best management practices and decision aides – that are then disseminated to farmers across the country through the Cooperative Extension Service and other delivery mechanisms.
SASR sets its priorities based on the development of a five-year action plan and solicits stakeholder input from those within the research and farming community when developing their research priorities. These priorities often allow ARS-funded research to be more long-term in scope than other research programs which rely on shorter-term, and less reliable funding streams such as USDA competitive grants.
SASR is organized into three components:
Included within National Program 216 is ARS’ Organic Agriculture research program, which is designed to help the organic industry “overcome the challenges they face related to productivity, profitability, environmental stewardship, and energy efficiency.” Under the SASR organic program, research projects must have a specific organic system focus. These can include, among others:
ARS partners with other USDA agencies, other federal and state agencies, farmers, commodity groups, business and other organizations on many of their research projects. However, this program does not make grants directly to organizations outside the federal government.
Farmers should contact their local ARS station to find out about opportunities to provide input on the specific research priorities in that region.
Information on the current research projects can be found on the ARS website.
Currently, there are over 270 active SASR research projects across the country. The projects are overseen by ARS facilities in 31 locations. The following are examples of ongoing projects:
Find a listing of all ongoing ARS projects, see ARS’s website.
This program does not award grants directly to farmers, research institutions, or non-profit organizations. To provide input on research topics or to get involved in research already being conducted, contact their local ARS station involved with SASR.
SASR is funded through the annual appropriations, rather than Farm Bill, process. SASR is funded out of ARS’s budget line item, which totaled $1 billion in fiscal year 2019.
Rather than having specific statutory authority in the Farm Bill, this program is created through ARS’s five-year action plan that is developed through a series of regional stakeholder workshops. SASR’s action plan and priorities are designed to fall in line with ARS’s Strategic Plan, which runs from 2018 through 2022.
ARS is authorized by the Department of Agriculture Organic Act of 1862 (7 U.S.C. 2201 note); Agricultural Research Act of 1935 (7 U.S.C. 427); Research and Marketing Act of 1946 (P.L. 79-733), as amended (7 U.S.C. 427, 1621 note); Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-113), as amended (7 U.S.C. 1281 note); Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198) (7 U.S.C. 3101 note); Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-624) (7 U.S.C. 1421 note); Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-127) Section 801; and Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-185).
Last updated in December 2019.