Biological research advances American agriculture

Industries large and small utilize research and technology to develop and provide goods and services to society. Now, the U.S. agriculture sector can reap more technological benefits resulting from biological research under the direction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Agriculture research has produced disease testing for livestock, specialty-crop varieties and GPS technology for farm equipment to name a few.

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), sponsored by USDA and created within the 2008 Farm Bill, established a competitive grant program to provide funding for fundamental and applied research, extension and education in food and agricultural sciences with a focus in six development areas. Grants that emphasize sustainable agriculture are preferred.

Priority Issues for Grant Applications
  1. Plant health and production and plant products
  2. Animal health and production and animal products
  3. Food safety, nutrition and health
  4. Renewable energy, natural resources and environment
  5. Agriculture systems and technology
  6. Agriculture economics and rural communities
"By focusing our resources on achievable and measurable outcomes, USDA's investment in science will help address some of America's – and the world's – intractable problems," said USDA chief scientist and director of USDA's Nation Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Robert Beachy.

"Today's announcement demonstrates USDA's commitment to supporting research, education and extension to bring about true change in areas like climate change, obesity and bioenergy."

In addition to the six priority issues for grant funding, the 2008 Farm Bill added conventional (classical) plant breeding, conventional (classical) animal breeding, renewable energy, domestic-marketing strategies and rural entrepreneurship as grant focal points.

There are also five designated primary challenge areas around which AFRI is structuring the grant program.

Challenge Areas
  1. Keep American agriculture competitive while ending world hunger
  2. Improve nutrition and end child obesity
  3. Improve food safety for all Americans
  4. Secure America’s energy future
  5. Mitigate and adapt to climate change
Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack allotted $262 million to this effort. State agricultural experiment stations, colleges and universities, university-research foundations, other research institutions and organizations, Federal agencies, national laboratories, private organizations or corporations and individuals are eligible to apply for grants. Grants are awarded on a 10-year basis and some grants are eligible for renewal upon conclusion of the term.

The benefits of research and technology to society cannot be quantified. The USDA has stepped to the plate to motivate the sustainability, efficiency, profitability and development of one of the nation’s most economically providing sectors.

Do you agree that the selected issues and challenge areas should be addressed, or are there other issues? Should more or less money be awarded for research grants? Do you think the research will result in significant technological gains?

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