NIFA awards $6.7m for agroecosystem grants

Investments will help understand how to farm more effectively and sustainably to feed the growing global population.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced 18 grants totaling more than $6.7 million for research to discover how components of the agroecosystem from soil, water and sun to plants, animals and people, interact with and affect food production. These awards are made through NIFA's Bioenergy and Natural Resources Program, Agroecosystem priority area of the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).

"Population growth, along with environmental factors, including the growing threat of climate change, are putting increasing demand on the land, water and other resources that produce our food," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These investments will help us understand how we can farm more effectively and sustainably to feed the growing global population."

NIFA's AFRI Foundational: Bioenergy, Natural Resources, and Environment Program supports research on healthy agroecosystems and their underlying natural resources essential to the sustained long-term production of agricultural goods and services. Agroecosystems may include crop production systems, animal production systems, and pasture, range and forest lands that are actively managed to provide economic, societal and environmental benefits. Projects funded through this program area contribute to the knowledge needed for sustainable production of agroecosystems while retaining needed ecosystem services-such as drinking water, pollination and climate regulation.

Awards for 2016 include:

  • Arizona Board of Regents, University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz., $439,080
  • The Regents of the University of California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., $439,676
  • National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., $50,000
  • Archbold Expeditions, Venus, Fla., $499,921
  • University of Florida Board of Trustees, Gainesville, Fla., $438,705
  • Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., $ 440,000
  • Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., $439,892
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $474,632
  • Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., $49,500
  • University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky., $ 149,736
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $499,094
  • The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $439,966
  • Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., $ 375,000
  • The Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pa., $471,324
  • New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M., $145,205
  • The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn., $375,000
  • Utah State University, Logan, Utah, $499,884
  • The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, Madison, Wisc., $498,995

For more information on these projects, visit the NIFA website.

Among this year's projects, the National Academy of Sciences will host a free, livestreamed workshop that will bring together policy makers, foundations and scientists to discuss how soil affects food security, water quality and ecosystem health and identify policy solutions and research decisions to preserve this critical resource. Archbold Expeditions, a nonprofit dedicated to long-term ecological research, will compare different grassland management systems to see which offer the most effective ecosystem benefits, such as greenhouse gas management and water use efficiency.

Previous agroecosystem projects include a research and education initiative by North Carolina State University that investigated how farming practices such as tillage, pesticide and fertilizer use can affect beneficial soil organisms like arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. Scientists and extension educators from the University of Idaho, Washington State University, Oregon State University and USDA's Agricultural Research Service collaborated on a planning grant to develop sustainable agriculture in the rain-fed cereal production areas of the inland Pacific Northwest.

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