USDA announces $7.4m in small business grants

New localized investments support groundbreaking scientific research that improves agriculture and creates strong rural economies.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that 76 small businesses around the country will receive $7.4 million in grants to conduct research related to food security, natural resources and agricultural issues. The grants are made through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a competitive funding source that is coordinated by the Small Business Administration and administered by 11 federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to encourage domestic small businesses to engage in high-growth research and development that has the potential for commercialization and could lead to significant public benefit.

"USDA is proud to stand behind America's small businesses, whose ingenuity and commitment to community is appreciated worldwide," Vilsack said. "Rural America is finally on the road to recovery after one of the worst economic recessions in our history, and we cannot underestimate the role that small businesses' innovation has played in bringing jobs back to their hometowns. The Small Business Innovation Research Program is one of many ways that USDA has helped thousands of rural businesses expand on new ideas for the benefit of their own operations and for our society as a whole. "

Examples of projects that will receive funding in the latest round include:

  • Unmanned Experts Inc. in Denver, Colo., is receiving a grant to conduct research to accelerate the adoption of unmanned aircraft systems for better fire and natural resource management and improved safety for wildland firefighters and aviators.
  • Foundation Instruments Inc. in Collierville, Tenn., will use a grant to evaluate the feasibility of a mobile drinking water laboratory to improve water quality and reduce costs at rural water treatment plants. This project will develop a mobile laboratory that can be shared among members of a rural cooperative to provide rural water treatment plants the same access to high-tech, on-site monitoring programs that are available to large metropolitan systems. This will allow rural water treatment plans to optimize their treatment practices, minimize treatment costs and improve water quality for their customers.
  • Hazel Technologies LLC in Skokie, Ill., is working to reduce food waste by developing materials that inhibit ethylene gas, a hormone that plants produce as they age, in a wider variety of plants and later in the supply chain than is typically done currently.

The National Institute for Food & Agriculture (NIFA) administers USDA's portion of the SBIR program with additional funding provided by the Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the U.S. Forest Service.

Past examples of successful USDA-funded SBIR projects include Eldertide LLC's research to cultivate elderberry varieties with high antioxidant levels that are now harvested and marketed for their anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Another business, Micronic Technologies, has developed a sustainable water desalination and purification technology. Its water treatment system, MicroDesal, is capable of taking water from any source and cleaning it to potable water standards.

The SBIR program is also currently accepting Phase I grant applications for the next round of funding until Oct. 6. See the request for applications for more information. Proposed Phase I projects should prove the scientific or technical feasibility of the approach or concept. Projects dealing with agriculturally related manufacturing and alternative and renewable energy technologies are encouraged across all SBIR topic areas.

Since 1983, the SBIR program has awarded more than 2,000 research and development grants to American-owned, independently operated, for-profit businesses with 500 employees or fewer. Research areas funded include air, soil and water; animal production and protection; aquaculture; biofuels and bio-based products; food science and nutrition; forests and related resources; plant production and protection – biology; plant production and protection – engineering; rural and community development, and small and midsized farms.

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