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Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) - Sustainable Agricultural Systems

Grants to USA IHEs, Agencies, Research Centers, and
Individuals to Promote Sustainability in Agriculture

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United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)

LOI Date:


Deadline Date:

10/10/18 5:00 PM ET Receipt


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Grants to USA IHEs, government agencies, research centers, and qualifying individuals to support applied and fundamental research, extension projects, and education to promote sustainable agriculture. LOIs are due June 27. Projects may be related to food, natural resources, agriculture, and human sciences.

Executive Summary:

Within AFRI, the long-term purpose of this new Sustainable Agricultural Systems (SAS) Request for Applications (RFA) is to help transform U.S. food and agricultural system to increase production in sustainable ways as we approach a world population of 10 billion by 2050, and doing so in the context 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.

Solving these challenges will require a convergence of science and technology to optimize agricultural productivity; ensure safe, affordable, and nutritious supply of food; invigorate and realize the promise of the bioeconomy; and promote the development of a talented agricultural workforce. Recent advances in plant and animal biology, new technologies, Big Data, knowledge of infrastructure and markets, and holistic approaches offer unprecedented opportunities for meeting the demands of the growing population. Transformation of our nation’s agricultural systems can ensure continued productivity growth, while conserving the natural resources and minimizing the environmental footprint of agriculture. It can also support the need for human capital to catalyze a secure global food system that meets the health and nutritional needs of people across rural and urban communities alike, both here in the U.S. and abroad.

For FY 2018, applications to the SAS RFA must focus on approaches that promote transformational changes in the U.S. food and agriculture system within the next 25 years. NIFA seeks creative and visionary applications that take a systems approach, and that will significantly improve the supply of abundant, affordable, safe, nutritious, and accessible food, while providing sustainable opportunities for expansion of the bioeconomy through novel animal, crop, and forest products and supporting technologies. These approaches must demonstrate current and future social, behavioral, economic, health, and environmental impacts. Additionally, the outcomes of the work being proposed must result in societal benefits, including promotion of rural prosperity and enhancement of quality of life for those involved in food and agricultural value chains from production to utilization and consumption.

Purpose and Priorities:

The purpose of AFRI is to support research, education, and extension work by awarding grants to solve key problems of local, regional, national, and global importance in sustaining conventional, organic, and urban agricultural systems. These include farm efficiency, profitability and sustainability, ranching, bioenergy, forestry, aquaculture, rural communities and entrepreneurship, human nutrition, mitigating impacts of biotic and abiotic constraints on food production, food safety, mitigating food waste and food loss, physical and social sciences, home economics and rural human ecology, biotechnology, and classical breeding. Through this support, AFRI advances knowledge in both fundamental and applied sciences important to agriculture. It also allows AFRI to support education and extension activities that deliver science-based knowledge to end users, allowing them to make informed, practical decisions. This AFRI RFA provides funding for integrated research, education, and extension projects, which includes Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) grants.

Food and agricultural systems are under the constraints of a growing population, pressure on natural resources, challenges of climate variability and change, and complex demands of ensuring nutritional security and food safety in a global economy. Addressing these challenges require research, education, extension, and integrated programs in concert with agroecological approaches that increase agricultural and natural resource sustainability. The term ''sustainable agriculture'' (7 U.S.C. 3103) means a combined system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long-term, achieve the following goals: 1) satisfy human food and fiber needs; 2) enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; 3) make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; 4) sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and 5) enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. AFRI encourages projects addressing enhancement of sustainability of agricultural systems.

NIFA supports global engagement that advances U.S. agricultural goals. To attain the agency's goals for U.S. agriculture, global competence of our nation’s agricultural workforce, and safe and nutritious food security in a growing world, NIFA recognizes that collaboration with international partners through AFRI can contribute to advances in U.S. agriculture. In an increasingly interconnected world, these U.S. advances may have global importance. Thus, applications in response to this RFA may include collaborations with international partners, but may only be submitted by eligible U.S. institutions. Such applications may include subcontracts to international partners or other institutions and must clearly demonstrate benefits to the U.S. Additional guidance on including international activities is provided on the AFRI International Partnerships website.

Program Area Priority:

The purpose of the SAS Program Area is to promote the sustainable supply of abundant, affordable, safe, nutritious, and accessible food and other agricultural products, while enhancing economic opportunities and improving the long-term health and well-being of all Americans. This RFA solicits applications for projects focused on increasing agricultural productivity; optimizing water and nitrogen use efficiency; protecting yield losses from stresses, diseases, and pests; reducing food-borne diseases; and advancing development of biobased fuels, chemicals, and coproducts. This RFA is soliciting creative and visionary project applications that use transdisciplinary teams and integrated research, education, and extension activities to promote convergence of science and technology to solve present and future food and agricultural production system challenges.

Successful projects will consider what has contributed to present successes of U.S. food and agriculture systems, and challenges to continued and future success. Agricultural systems are inclusive of value chains from production to consumption for food or other products from farms, ranches, and managed forests across the rural-urban continuum from conventional open-fields to controlled production in built environments. Consideration must be given for how new strategies or other technical interventions may alter many factors involved in the conduct of the system. Applicants must demonstrate changes that are crucial to ensuring the food and agricultural supply and viability of the entire value chain. This includes profitability, natural resources quality, food safety and quality, and the health and well-being of people and communities. Additionally, the systems must help develop and execute approaches to reducing the ecological footprint including, but not limited to, water and nutrient use, greenhouse gases, and energy use.

Projects must include demonstrable efforts that enhance the education and training of the next generation of farmers, workers, and scientists who are equipped to use new skills, technology, training, and experiences to find solutions to global food and agricultural challenges. Extension and other engagement must advance public acceptance of transformative discoveries. These outcomes must produce significant behavioral changes that lead to sustainable production and consumption practices, and improve the health and well-being of the public.

Projects must propose performance metrics that measure progress during the grant period toward the 25-year goals described below. These metrics must demonstrate how the proposed system and its components contribute to productivity and profitability, reduced ecological footprint, natural resources quality, food safety and quality, nutritional security, human health and well- being, a skilled workforce, and safe jobs.

Applications must address one or more of the following 25-year goals:

-Increase growth of agricultural total factor productivity (TFP) from the current 1.5 percent to 2 percent per year and agricultural production by 2 percent annually. TFP is a measure of productivity performance that takes into account a broad set of inputs used in agricultural production that can be influenced by changes across systems. TFP compares all land, labor, capital, and material resources used in the sector’s total output. Interventions are sought that will sustain growth in the rate of production that result in continued increases in TFP.

-Improve water and nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient use efficiency by 50 percent. Crop and livestock (including hydroponic, aquaculture, and integrated aquaponic systems), and managed forest production can be improved by use of non-traditional water sources; greater resource scavenging by roots; improving the absorption and utilization of nutrients; new or improved breeds or varieties; manipulating microbiomes; irrigation management; or recycling and reuse and conservation of water and nutrients. Development or improvement of models, decision support tools, data systems, technology innovations, and system reconfigurations at and across relevant scales can lead to new efficiencies.

-Reduce losses due to environmental stresses, insects and other invertebrate pests, weeds, or diseases by 20 percent in crops and animals used for food, fiber, or bioproducts production. Protecting yields and other supply chain components from biotic and abiotic stress losses can increase food and economic security. Comprehensive strategies are needed for dealing with the effects of climate and extreme weather events, pathogens, pests, and parasites on agricultural production, food quality, nutritional security, and food safety. These strategies can extend to positive impacts on the health of farmers, agricultural workers, consumers, and others who could be affected by changes to food and agricultural systems.

-Produce 50 billion gallons of biofuels and 50 billion pounds of biobased chemicals and bioproducts in the next 25 years. The development of sustainable biomass feedstock supply chains that complement existing agriculture production systems can improve overall system profitability and productivity. Strategies must address social, behavioral, and economic barriers to adoption; enhance existing food, feed, and fiber production systems; and create beneficial ecosystem services, such as improved water availability and quality, nutrient use reduction, or wildlife and pollinator habitat enhancements. Proposals must also describe how these systems can be used to expand the bioeconomy, rural prosperity, and creation of jobs.

-Reduce food-borne illnesses to 8.5 cases per 100,000 people in the U.S. population per year. To achieve this goal, targeted approaches are needed to prevent foodborne illness incidence, while increasing the availability and accessibility of safe and nutritious food for people of all ages and all income levels. Changes to food and agricultural systems can impact the incidence of foodborne illness, nutrient composition of foods, diet quality, and nutritional security that can greatly impact overall quality of life and human health and well-being. Targeted approaches for improving food safety should include investigations of the survival, growth, and spread of foodborne pests, microbes and their genes, as well as the development of antimicrobial resistant pathogens in food environments across the food chain.

Descriptions and examples of goals given above are meant to be guidance for project development, rather than being prescriptive. The project teams are expected to define the scope of their systems, system components, and detailed metrics that are directed at achieving one or more of the five goals in this RFA.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 183691

Estimated Total Program Funding:


Estimated Size of Grant:

Up to $10 million

Term of Contract:

The funds will be awarded through a grant for performance periods of up to five years. NIFA may choose to issue a grant on a continuation basis.

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Eligible Applicants:

Applications may only be submitted by eligible entities. Eligibility is linked to the project type as specified below. Note that this RFA lists the general eligibility requirements for AFRI but only integrated and applicable FASE grants are relevant for this RFA.

1. Research, Education or Extension Projects

Eligible applicants for single-function Research, Education or Extension Projects include: a) State Agricultural Experiment Station; b) colleges and universities (including junior colleges offering associate degrees or higher); c) university research foundations; d) other research institutions and organizations; e) Federal agencies, f) national laboratories; g) private organizations or corporations; h) individuals who are U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents; and i) any group consisting of two or more entities identified in a) through h). Eligible institutions do not include foreign and international organizations.

2. Integrated Projects

Eligible applicants for Integrated Projects include: a) Colleges and universities; b) 1994 Land-Grant Institutions; and c) Hispanic-serving agricultural colleges and universities.

For item a) under Integrated Projects, the terms "college" and "university" mean an educational institution in any state which i) admits as regular students only persons having a certificate of graduation from a school providing secondary education, or the recognized equivalent of such a certificate; ii) is legally authorized within such state to provide a program of education beyond secondary education; iii) provides an educational program for which a bachelor’s degree or any other higher degree is awarded; iv) is a public or other nonprofit institution; and v) is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association. A research foundation maintained by a college or university is eligible to receive an award under this program.

3. Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement Grants

Part II, C.2 contains the eligibility details for Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants. Note that under the FASE program, only Strengthening Coordinated Agricultural Project Grants are solicited in this RFA.

Applicants must respond to the Program Area priorities and deadlines found in Part I, C. of this RFA. Grant recipients may subcontract to organizations not eligible to apply provided such organizations are necessary for the conduct of the project. Failure to meet an eligibility criterion by the application deadline may result in the application being excluded from consideration or, even though an application may be reviewed, will preclude NIFA from making an award (see Part III B).

Request for Determination of Status:

1. Minority–Serving Institution

If an institution can be considered a minority-serving institution and wishes to be considered for a Strengthening Grant (see Part II, C. 2), but does not serve one or more of the groups identified as a minority (see definition Part VIII, D), the applicant must submit documentation supporting the request. This documentation (see below) must be submitted as part of the requestor’s Letter of Intent (if required) and the full application package (Part IV, C) and it must be received by the applicable program area or program area priority deadline. The Secretary of Agriculture or designated individual will determine whether the group or groups identified are eligible as a minority group for the purpose of receiving a Strengthening Grant under the FASE program.

Documentation must be included in the order specified below:
a. A description of each minority group being served;
b. Data or studies supporting this group’s designation as a minority group; and
c. Data indicating that enrollment of the minority group(s) exceeds 50 percent of the
total enrollment at the academic institution, including graduate and undergraduate, and full-and part-time students.

2. Multi-Campus Institution

Table 1 is a listing of institutions that are not eligible for any strengthening funds except those institutions located in an Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) States (see Part II, C. 2.). If an ineligible institution consists of multiple campuses that are not listed, those individual campuses may request an exemption by providing information on their independent administration or independent accreditation. If an exemption is approved, then the campus is eligible for strengthening funds. To request an exemption, the documentation (see below) must be submitted as part of the Letter of Intent (if required) and the full application package (Part IV, C). The documentation will be used to, for example, verify the campus is administratively independent of the listed institution.

A letter, signed by the Authorized Representative (AR), must be included documenting to support the institution is:
a. Independent of the main campus, either through accreditation or administration and
b. Eligible as a small and mid-sized or minority-serving institution due to enrollment and total Federal funds received for science and engineering research and development.

Center of Excellence:

Pursuant to Section 7214 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Pub. L. 113-79), NIFA will recognize and provide priority in the receipt of funding to applications from “centers of excellence” that carry out research, extension, and education activities that relate to the food and agricultural sciences. NIFA held listening sessions in July 2014 and accepted written comments from stakeholders to inform NIFA’s implementation of the Center of Excellence (COE) provision.

A COE is composed of one or more of the following entities that provide financial or in-kind support to the COE.
(1) State agricultural experiment stations;
(2) Colleges and universities;
(3) University research foundations;
(4) Other research institutions and organizations; (5) Federal agencies;
(6) National laboratories;
(7) Private organizations, foundations, or corporations;
(8) Individuals; or
(9) Any group consisting of two or more of the entities described in (1) through (8).

COE designation is available only for the standard grant and the Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) grant applications submitted to the program areas or program area priorities in the Foundational and Applied Science, and Sustainable Agricultural Systems RFAs. If applicable, Part IV, C., of the RFA contains additional requirements for COE consideration.

Pre-Application Information:


The anticipated appropriated amount available to support the AFRI program in FY 2018 is $400 million, of which $80 million will be available to support the Program Area in this AFRI RFA.

Of the total amount available to make awards for the AFRI program, no less than 30 percent will be made available to fund integrated research, education, and extension projects. Of the AFRI funds allocated to research activities, no less than 60 percent will be directed toward grants for fundamental (or basic) research and 40 percent toward grants for applied research. Of the AFRI funds allocated to fundamental research, not less than 30 percent will be directed toward research by multidisciplinary teams. It is expected that no less than 15 percent of the FY 2018 funds will be made available for Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants, and no more than two percent of the funds available for fundamental research will be made available for Equipment Grants (see Part II, C. for information about FASE and Equipment Grants).

Of the $80 million available to support the Program Area in this RFA, no less than 11.25% will be made available for Strengthening Coordinated Agricultural Project Grants under the FASE program. No other FASE grant types are available under the program area in this RFA.

Cost Share:

If an applied Research (see Part VIII, D) or Integrated Project with an applied research component, is commodity-specific and not of national scope, the grant recipient is required to match the USDA funds awarded on a dollar-for-dollar basis from non-Federal sources with cash and/or in-kind contributions. NIFA may waive the matching funds requirement based on submitted document if it is determined that:

a. The results of the project, while of particular benefit to a specific agricultural commodity, are likely to be applicable to agricultural commodities generally; or

b. The project involves a minor commodity, the project deals with scientifically important research, and the grant recipient is unable to satisfy the matching funds requirement.

Letter of Intent and Application:

If a Program Area or Program Area Priority within this RFA requires a Letter of Intent (LOI), then a LOI is a prerequisite for submission of an application.

The Letter of intent if applicable, must be received at NIFA by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on June 27, 2018.

Only electronic applications may be submitted via to NIFA in response to this RFA. Applicants are urged to submit early through the system.

Applications must be received by by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on October 10, 2018. Applications received after this deadline will normally not be considered for funding.

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

For questions and submission:

(202) 401-6602

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Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming