USDA offers over $150m for agricultural and feed research

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A USDA grant program is offering $150.2m in funding to support foundational research in agriculture, says program leader. 

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the funding through its National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The grant funding is to support foundational research aimed at addressing societal and global challenges, including sustainable agriculture and food safety and security.  

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) offers competitive grants that cover fundamental and applied research, education and extension efforts concerning the food and agricultural sciences, said Steven Smith, national program leader for the division of animal systems. The funding program covers several areas of agricultural production that were defined as priorities in the 2014 Farm Bill.

The focus areas within the current application request include: animal health, production and animal products; plant health, production and plant products; food safety, nutrition and health; bioenergy, natural resources and the environment; agricultural systems and technology; and agricultural economics and rural communities, he said.

“The goal of this program is to invest in agricultural production research, education, and extension projects for more sustainable, productive and economically viable plant and animal production systems,” he told FeedNavigator. “The global agricultural output needs to be expanded significantly to meet the food needs of the population expected in 2050; thus, it is imperative to develop innovative, safe and sustainable management strategies for livestock, crops, and critical underlying resources.”

Grant specifics

Multiple deadlines for different focus areas have been set, said NIFA. Some programs also require letters of intent, the first of which – for critical agricultural research and extension – are due May 24.   

Grant awards range up to $2.5m, the agency said. Institutions that are eligible to apply for a grant include members of land-grant institutions, community specific institutions, individuals, Native American tribal organizations, nonprofits, private institutions of higher education, small businesses, state agricultural experiment states, state controlled institutions of higher education and some for-profit organizations.

Since 2009, more than $985m has been allocated through the AFRI Foundational Program, said NIFA. 

‘Catalyzing’ use of big ag data

This year there also are some areas where specific attention is being offered, these include interest in workshop proposals involving the use of big data to present new knowledge, support predictive decision making or allow for data-driven improvements in agriculture, said NIFA.

The area has received specific mention in the RFA this year because in many of the realms covered by the grant program a large amount of information is generated rapidly, said Smith. “The availability of big data provides unprecedented opportunities for synthesizing new knowledge, making predictive decisions, and fostering data-supported innovation in agriculture,” he added.

To “catalyze” activities in this area, NIFA has started the Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools (FACT) initiative, he said. This year, the priority areas that allow conference applications will also cover submission of FACT workshop applications.

“The workshops supported will focus on identifying priorities and bottlenecks in generating, managing and integrating data in a specific domain of the food and agricultural system,” said Smith. “Expected outcomes include strategic plans and specific community-supported solutions to handling standards, repositories, data sharing and engagement across sector and disciplines.”

The support for workshops also aims to improve understanding of data use, he said. “In addition, these workshops should begin to address how data management plans can assist in prioritizing collection and storage of primary and meta-data relevant for each community,” he added.

Another area gaining special interest this year are applications looking at animal vaccinology with the long-term goal of developing new vaccine options or technologies, said NIFA.

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