Washington, D.C., Dec. 1, 2014 –  As dozens of agricultural research advocates gather in Washington this week to discuss the need for more focus on research funding, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) says it will provide more than $6.5 million in grants to improve plant health, production, and products.

The biggest winner? The Ohio State University, in Wooster, Ohio, won two separate grants totaling $500,000 each. Some of the projects funded will address issues concerning zebra chip disease in potatoes, improving soybean productivity, and controlling diseases affecting tomato health and fruit quality.

The grants were funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (AFRI).

“As the world’s population increases, plants play a vital role in the success of the national and global economy,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “It is imperative that we study plant breeding and nutrient utilization in order to have a safe and secure food supply in the future.”

The announcement comes after a National Research Council Committee released a critical review of the AFRI program earlier this year and concluded that NIFA should give fundamental research a top priority.

“Public investment in agricultural research gains in the United States have trended downward over the last 20 years. Public investment in agricultural research has declined relative to other sectors of U.S. science and technology and relative to agricultural research investments of other nations,” the authors wrote.

So while today’s announcement is helpful for those interesting in reversing recent trends, research advocates say there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done.

“Waning public investments in U.S. agricultural R&D will probably slow innovation and slow the growth of the knowledge base necessary to meet the ever-evolving challenges presented by increasingly competitive global markets, increasingly scarce natural resources, growing environmental issues, and expanding demands for healthy, safe, and accessible food for consumers in the United States and other countries,” the NRC authors wrote.

The awards were made under the AFRI Foundational Program priority areas of plant breeding for agricultural production, as well as photosynthetic efficiency and nutrient utilization in agricultural plants.

The funded plant breeding projects focus on improving crop yield, efficiency, quality, and adaptation to diverse agricultural systems, according to USDA. Photosynthetic and nutrient utilization projects focus on increasing plant productivity and improving nutrient uptake, assimilation, accumulation, and utilization.

Fiscal Year 2014 plant breeding awards include:

University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $500,000

University of Idaho, Moscow, Id., $494,000

Agricultural Research Service, Peoria, Ill., $500,000

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., $500,000

Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $33,000

Ohio State University, Wooster, Ohio, two separate grants, $500,000 each

Organic Seed Alliance, Port Townsend, Wash., $33,000

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $500,000

Fiscal Year 2014 photosynthetic and nutrient utilization awards include:

University of California, Davis, Calif., $25,000

University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $499,991

Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, $499,991

University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H., $493,460

Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., $20,325

University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M., $15,000

Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $22,000

Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, $482,914

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $499,974

Agricultural Research Service, Peoria, Ill., $499,099

Overall, AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

For more information: www.nifa.usda.gov.

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