Study Shows Capacity Funding is a Valued Investments to States

Dan Education, Industry News Release

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) released a new report that measured the effectiveness of NIFA’s investments to our nation’s land-grant universities — investments that benefit the American public through agriculture and food research, extension, and education projects. The report, “National Evaluation of Capacity Programs,” was prepared by TEConomy Partners.

“It’s no accident that agriculture is a high-performing sector of the U.S. economy,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy. “It’s the result of decades of research and development. This report shows the importance of federal investments to our nation’s land-grant university system.”

Among the report’s key findings, capacity funding remains a relevant program that offers multiple benefits. Investments respond to the specific needs of local, regional, and state agricultural producers. Capacity funds offer an essential funding stream for research and extension programs of relevance to producers that are unlikely to receive national-scale attention. Each dollar of capacity funding leverages $1.85 in additional investments from state, local, and private sector sources.

NIFA provides capacity funding to 112 land-grant institutions that are designated by their states to receive legislated capacity funding. Land-grant colleges and universities,  also known as LGUs,  include 1862 public universities; 1890 historically black colleges and universities and Tuskegee University; 1994 tribal colleges and universities; and Hispanic-serving agricultural colleges and universities. The amount of funds NIFA provides to each institution is determined by statutorily defined formulas, including variables such as the rural population, number of farms, and poverty. University leaders decide the specific projects that will be supported by an institution’s capacity grant allotment, which must be aligned with NIFA-approved plans of work.

NIFA commissioned this study to determine whether funding based on 100-year-old legislation is still a suitable model to support 21st century university needs. The report reviewed both quantitative and qualitative data to assess the types of research and extension efforts being funded, the impacts being generated, local, regional, and national relevance, and the strengths and weaknesses of the funding model. Multiple datasets were analyzed, including more than 19,000 NIFA capacity projects, 2,000 competitive projects, publications, patents, and other resources. Additionally, surveys were distributed to all land-grant universities and colleges to gather insights on their use of NIFA funding.

Other key findings:

  • NIFA funding supports a holistic research and extension system. The capacity model of funding supports a complete continuum of research and development (R&D) activity from basic inquiry, applied and translational research, and pilot and field demonstration. Moreover, the system provides a pragmatic feedback loop in which R&D responds to tangible needs, and research is shared by Cooperative Extension for use in farms, industries, communities, and beyond.
  • NIFA funding supports a broad base of R&D to enhance the U.S. economy and society. Capacity-funded projects invest in topics directly relevant to agricultural and rural communities (agricultural production, food safety, agribusiness, bioenergy research, 4-H and youth development, and family and consumer sciences). The most prevalent types of capacity grants include agronomy, animal science and livestock, basic life science, and forests and forestry.
  • Capacity grants spur innovation. Agricultural advances are based on science, and NIFA capacity investments are spurring progress. One in six patents in agriculture science and related disciplines were influenced by land-grant university research, as measured by patent citations.  Of 23,512 relevant U.S. patents analyzed, 950 featured LGUs as one of the original assignees. Patents focused on next-generation applications in biotechnology, life sciences, and physical sciences. Top patenting topics informed by capacity funding are new plant varieties and cultivars, genetic engineering, fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals, enzymes, food production and additives, and animal husbandry and management.
  • Cooperative Extension connects with community. The capacity-funded Cooperative Extension System, based at land-grant institutions, provides a high-volume of knowledge, training, and informal education to agricultural professionals and local communities. Extension advice and educational content are in high demand. In recent years, extension has recorded an average of 58.5 million direct contacts with clients per year.
  • The federal government is a major funder of ag research. After the private sector, the federal government is the second-highest funder of agricultural and related research by a wide margin. The U.S. government is also the primary funder of early-stage, exploratory research and applied agricultural research on specialty crops, livestock, and agricultural commodities specific to local geographies and production environments.

Read the entire report at the NIFA website.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and promotes transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. NIFA support for the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel has resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that combat childhood obesity, improve and sustain rural economic growth, address water availability issues, increase food production, find new sources of energy, mitigate climate variability and ensure food safety. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates or follow us on Twitter @USDA_NIFA#NIFAimpacts.