USDA/NIFA Invests in Exploratory Research

DanIndustry News Release, Research

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awarded grants to support the initial development of innovative ideas in agriculture and food production through the Exploratory Research Grants usda(ERG) program. Funding is made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The ERG program fosters the creation of transformative innovations that address plant and animal health and production, food safety and nutrition, bioenergy, natural resources and environment, agriculture systems, technology, agricultural economics and rural communities. AFRI is America’s flagship competitive grants program for foundational and translational research, education, and extension projects in the food and agricultural sciences.

“We have made tremendous strides with conventional agricultural practices,” said NIFA Director Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy. “However, with an expected population growth of more than 9 billion by 2050, progressive, high-yielding innovations are necessary in order to ensure food production and security for a growing population.”

There are 27 grants totaling $2.6 million funded through the ERG program for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. They include a project at the University of Florida that tackled the urgent need to determine the frequency of Zika virus infection in wild-caught mosquitoes in Haiti, generating information that can help efforts to control the spread of Zika from insects to humans in Florida and other Southern states. Through another grant, Middle Tennessee State University explored an alternative approach to sustainable bioenergy and renewable energy by using food-industry wastes to grow microorganisms that produce the lipid precursors of biodiesel.

The full list of grantees is as follows:

  • University of California, San Diego, California, $100,000
  • Connecticut State Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven, Connecticut, $99,999
  • Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, $99,979
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, $100,000
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, $100,000
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, $99,961
  • University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, $100,000
  • University of Georgia-School of Veterinary Medicine, Athens, Georgia, $100,000
  • University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois, $100,000
  • University of Illinois-School of Veterinary Medicine, Champaign, Illinois, $100,000
  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, $100,000
  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, $94,202
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, $100,000
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, $99,370
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, $100,000
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, $100,000
  • University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, $100,000
  • University of Missouri, Rolla, Missouri, $100,000
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, $100,000
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, $100,000
  • Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $100,000
  • Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, $100,000
  • Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, $100,000
  • Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania, $100,000
  • Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, $99,879
  • Tennessee State University, Nashville, Tennessee, $100,000
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, $99,255

Project details can be found at the NIFA website.

Previously funded projects include a project at Ohio State University to determine the effect of sleep loss on the immunity of dairy cattle. Researchers at Duke University are exploring ways to use Super-Critical Water Oxidation (SCWO) – already successfully used to treat sewage sludge – to convert animal waste to harmless end-products that generate carbon offsets and possibly renewable energy.

The ERG program, which accepts letters of intent and proposals on a rolling basis throughout the year, addresses emerging challenges that require new or unconventional approaches and yield high potential impact. This program area supports research projects, including blue sky and high risk/high reward hypotheses, to develop proof of concept for untested ideas that will lead to positive disruption of the agricultural norm.

NIFA reviews all proposals accepted in NIFA’s competitive grant programs through a peer review process in which experts from within the respective field in question take part. Specific details review formats and evaluation criteria may vary among programs.

NIFA’s mission is to invest in and advance agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges. NIFA’s investments in transformative science directly support the long-term prosperity and global preeminence of U.S. agriculture. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural sciences, visit, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter @USDA_NIFA, #NIFAImpacts.