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Program Synopsis: National Research Initiative (NRI) Competitive Grants Program

The National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRI) at the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service (NIFA) is charged with funding research, education, and extension activities to address key problems of national and regional importance in biological, environmental, physical, and social sciences relevant to agriculture, food, the environment, and communities on a peer-reviewed, competitive basis. To address these problems, NRI advances scientific knowledge in support of agriculture, forestry, and related topics. The program also supports the integration of research, education, and extension to generate, translate, and transfer new technology and knowledge into practical applications focused on solving problems of national importance.

The NRI was established in 1991 in response to recommendations outlined in Investing in Research: A Proposal to Strengthen the Agricultural, Food and Environmental System, a 1989 report by the National Research Council's (NRC) Board on Agriculture. This publication called for increased funding of high priority research, funded by USDA through a competitive peer-review process, directed at:

  • Increasing the competitiveness of U.S. agriculture.

  • Improving human health and well-being through an abundant, safe, and high-quality food supply.

  • Sustaining the quality and productivity of the natural resources upon which agriculture depends.

Continued interest in and support of the NRI is reflected in two subsequent NRC reports, Investing in the National Research Initiative: An Update of the Competitive Grants Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (1994), and National Research Initiative: A Vital Competitive Grants Program in Food, Fiber, and Natural Resources Research (2000).

The NRI supports a spectrum of research that bridges the basic and applied sciences and results in practical outcomes. From its inception, the NRI supported projects for fundamental and applied research, and in FY 2003, NIFA was given the authority to use up to 20% of the available NRI funds to carry out a competitive grants program for projects combining research, education, and/or extension, termed integrated projects.

For FY 2008, the NRI requests applications to support (1) high priority fundamental and mission-linked research of importance in the biological, environmental, physical, and social sciences relevant to agriculture, food, the environment, and rural communities, and (2) competitively awarded research, extension, and education grants addressing key issues of national and regional importance to agriculture, forestry, and related topics. NIFA anticipates that approximately $190 million will be available for support of this program in FY 2008. Of this amount, up to 22 percent may be used to fund integrated projects. The remaining funds will be used to fund research projects.

Competition is open to scientists at all academic institutions, Federal research agencies, private and industrial organizations, and as individuals. The NRI Program Description is distributed widely within the scientific community and among other interested groups. The FY 2008 Request for Applications contains 25 programs with 17 programs soliciting integrated research, education, and extension projects in addition to research projects. The FY 2007 RFA contained 26 programs of which 15 solicited integrated research, education, and extension projects.

The success rate -- calculated in terms of number of proposals funded and excluding conferences, supplements, and continuing increments of the same grant -- was approximately 22 percent for FY 2007 and 16 percent for FY 2006. In FY 2007, a total of 1877 proposals were submitted to the NRI, requesting a total of $772,095,728 in funding. Awards totaling $164,372,877 were made to the 451 highest-ranked proposals submitted.

In FY 2007, 318 standard research projects were funded averaging $391,244 for 2.8 years (excluding Research Career Enhancement Awards, Equipment Grants, Seed Grants, conferences, continuing increments, and supplements). Fifty-one standard integrated research, education, and extension projects were funded in Fiscal Year 2007 averaging $681,026 for 3.5 years (excluding Bridge Grants, conferences, continuing increments, and supplements).

The NRI also provided funds totaling $16,735,732 in Agricultural Research Enhancement Awards. This support included Postdoctoral Fellowships, New Investigator Awards, and Strengthening Awards (Standard Strengthening Research Awards and Seed, Equipment, and Sabbatical Grants).

 

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