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Plants & Plant Products Overview

Through its Plants and Plant Products programs, NIFA provides national program leadership and funding opportunities for research, education, and extension to address various challenges for crop production and plant protection. These programs guide development and use of economically sound and environmentally friendly approaches and products for national needs such as food, feed, and fiber.

NIFA Plant and Plant Product programs provide a better understanding of plants: how they grow, how their growth and productivity can be improved, and how they can be used in new ways. The combination of leadership and funding in Plants and Plant Product programs brings about development of new strategies and improvement of existing strategies for plant use and productivity. This increased understanding and forward thinking strengthens our nation’s ability to address challenges such as loss of arable land, increased population, protection of the nation’s food production, destruction of the environment, global climate change, and economic stability of rural and agricultural communities.

Plants are diverse organisms, differing in size and shape and ranging from single cells such as algae to complex organisms such as trees. An important feature unique to plants is their ability to use energy from sunlight to produce their own food such as sugar, starch, and other carbohydrates; this process is termed photosynthesis. Through photosynthesis, plants provide food, oxygen, and energy for the world. Plants also provide fiber, medicines, building materials, and natural products such as oils and latex. Plants enliven and sustain our environments, providing flowers for indoor decoration, parks for recreation, and forests for wildlife.

NIFA programs in Plants and Plant Products reflect the diversity of the types and uses of plants seen in today’s world. As our knowledge about plants is increasing, we are learning how to breed plant varieties that are productive under drought conditions, better withstand attack by pests and disease, produce pharmaceuticals to treat human disease, or make new chemicals for energy or industrial use. Additionally, the study of plants is leading to better management of parks, forests, and rangelands and to the use of plants for solving environmental pollution problems. Thus, NIFA Plants and Plant Products programs play a vital role in maintaining and improving agricultural sustainability, environmental protection, and economic security.

Programs in the Plants, Plant Products National Emphasis Area include:

Plant Breeding, Genetics & Genomics: For hundreds of years, traditional plant breeding has generated more productive and nutritious crop plants. Genetics and genomics are now improving the effectiveness and efficiency of plant breeding. The Plant Breeding, Genetics, & Genomics Program focuses on use of these approaches, tools, and resources to improve, protect, and sustain plants for agriculture and the environment.

Biobased Products & Processing: The Biobased Products & Processing Program focuses on increasing development, use, competitiveness, and quality of biobased products. A biobased product is a commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is composed of biological products such as raw agricultural materials, agricultural wastes, or forestry materials. Biobased products lead to new areas for agricultural research, business, economic development, and crop diversification and make use of renewable resources to produce fuel, energy, chemicals, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and other beneficial materials.

Horticulture: The Horticulture Program addresses issues pertaining to breeding, growth, production, storage, handling, and marketing of horticultural crops. Horticultural crops consist of vegetables, fruits, flowers, nuts, berries, and nursery and greenhouse plants. These plants provide variety to human diets and enhancement for our living environment and personal well-being. Rapidly growing areas of horticulture include floriculture, outdoor recreation, and home and urban landscape design and management.

Agronomy & Forage Crops: The Agronomy and Forage Crops Program focuses on issues in crop productivity and natural resource protection. Agronomy uses plant and soil sciences to maintain or improve productivity of forage and field crops and to ensure wise use of natural resources such as water and soil. Forage crops are important agriculturally, economically, and environmentally, providing food, feed grain, oil, fuel, and fiber for national use and international trade, reducing soil erosion, and improving soil quality.