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The 2008 Farm Bill: Making an Impact through NIFA

Renewable Energy, Natural Resources, & Environment

NIFA’s national program leadership integrates research, education, and Cooperative Extension expertise to address environmental and natural resource priorities. The agency’s programs seek to develop the next generation of biofuels that will not only power machines but the American economy as a whole. Furthermore, these programs improve air, soil, and water quality; fish and wildlife management; sustainable use and management of forests, rangeland, and watersheds; and lead to a better understanding of how the changing climate effects agriculture.


Air Quality

The agency’s research partners work to improve the measurement, control, and transport of odor, gases, and particulate matter from agricultural operations.

Soil Quality

NIFA-funded projects study the effect of soil micro-organisms and nutrients on greenhouse gases and how judicious soil management practices can help control or reduce these gases.

Climate effects on agriculture

Adapting to changing climate conditions is one of the most pressing problems for agricultural producers. The climate change projects that NIFA supports focus on reducing greenhouse gas concentrations and anticipating natural and human impacts on agricultural ecosystems.

Renewable energy

The country’s dependence on foreign oil needs to be reduced. NIFA-funded programs support the development of regional systems to develop, produce, and deliver sustainable biobased products. America’s goal is to produce 36 billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2022.

Wildlife and fish

Wildlife and fish contribute to healthy ecosystems, provide income to landowners, and offer recreation opportunities to sportsmen. The projects that NIFA enables study wildlife ecology and management, provide training for future wildlife professionals, and inform landowners about invasive species and animal-to-human diseases.


Minnesota volunteer naturalists work to save the environment

Minnesota Extension’s Master Naturalist program trained over 1,000 volunteers and instructors, and 84 percent are still active. These volunteers have committed 121,144 hours of service over the past 5 years to protect the environment. Minnesota’s Master Naturalists participate in lake and stream monitoring, eradication of invasive species, lake shore restoration, clearing trails, emerald ash borer monitoring, teaching nature courses, planting trees, and leading hikes. Their volunteer efforts have been valued at over $2,480,000.

Florida researchers expand the use of sweet sorghums for biofuels

A NIFA Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant is helping investigators at the University of Florida develop the next generation  of sweet sorghums  as a source of biomass for fuels, chemicals, and other high-value products. This BRDI project includes production of superior sorghum cultivars and novel biochemical conversion technologies. Sweet sorghum is a tall grass with stems  that contain a sugar-rich juice.

4-H participants become “stewards of the natural world”

Washington State University-led 4-H programming collaborates with local and tribal governments to mentor youth in the area of environmental education. The 4-H Fish and Forest Stewards Program works with the Tulalip Tribe, Snohomish County schools, and non-profit groups in rural communities that are affected by poverty and job loss. The curriculum is focused on watersheds, water quality, native plants, salmon habitat/ stewardship, forests and wildlife, climate change, and local history. The 4-H Eco-Stewardship Program is another Washington State Cooperative Extension offering to students residing in Chelan and nearby counties. Through this program, students develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between healthy forests and healthy communities. This programming earned the 2010 Connecting Youth with Nature through Environmental Conservation Award from 4-H National Headquarters, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ohio-led BRDI project partners develop new biomass technology

The Ohio State University (OSU) is leading a NIFA-funded BRDI project to test and expand a university-developed technology that can produce biogas from a variety of solid organic wastes and bioenergy crops. Researchers  at OSU, Mississippi State University, the University of Georgia, and partners  in industry will develop technology for converting biogas to liquid hydrocarbon fuels to diversify the country’s suite of renewable transportation fuels. The project’s main goal is to enhance the integrated  anaerobic digestion system, a patent-pending technology. The system has the potential to develop new markets for agricultural producers, improve soil fertility and crop yield, and reduce energy transportation costs.

NDSU promotes jobs through sugar beet biofuel research

A researcher at North Dakota State University initiated an energy beet development program to support the development of the biofuel industry. The program established regional energy beet yield trials, initiated a juice storage study, tested sugar beet ethanol production commercially, and conducted grower education meetings. Producers, rural communities, and industry are learning of the opportunity through workshops and on the eXtension website. Construction of a commercial plant is possible as early as 2015. A sugar beet ethanol facility would require 30,000 acres of energy beets, which would provide growers with increased income and create 25 new jobs in rural communities.

FRTEP enhances wastewater management on a reservation

When Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribe water resource professionals discovered that 60 percent of the Minnesota reservation’s septic systems were sub-standard or failing, they feared for the reservation’s health, indigenous rice fields, and 270 fishable lakes. Leech Lake Reservation’s extensive water resources were threatened by untreated wastewater from an estimated 1,200 failing septic systems. Through the NIFA-funded Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP) grant, Cooperative Extension agents conducted extensive outreach and education, going door-to-door to explain the importance of proper septic care with reservation homeowners. Agents also conducted a youth camp around water quality and answered stakeholder questions and concerns. Extension activities are responsible for increasing participation in reservation septic evaluation and upgrade efforts.

Extension Grower Network saves 114 billion gallons of water each year

A professor at the University of Nebraska developed a network of farmers over the past 7 years that has adopted new, improved technologies for irrigation/water management. As of 2012, this network of more than 1,100 farmers and over 1.5 million acres of cropland has reduced the amount of irrigation by 114 billion gallons of water annually—enough water to supply a city the size of Tucson, AZ, for a full year. This work is supported in part by NIFA Hatch and Smith-Lever funds. Next steps include improving nutrient management, soil quality, and cost/benefit analysis to protect the environment and improve agricultural profitability.

BRDI project impacts local community

A NIFA-funded BRDI project is partnering Domtar Paper with North Carolina State University, the U.S. Forest Products Lab, and others, to produce power and chemical products from an existing pulp and paper mill. The project leverages assets and infrastructure and has protected at least 100 jobs in North and South Carolina.

“Mercury-eating” trees clean up environmental sites

Using funds provided by the McIntire-Stennis program, the University of Georgia has developed biologically engineered trees that can clean up the thousands of acres of land that have been contaminated with mercury. Using these trees instead of those developed by conventional methods can save millions of dollars per contaminated site and avoids the environmental disruption of the sites that conventional technologies would cause.

Georgia and Maryland scientists improve honey bee health

Managed honeybees, which pollinate over 130 fruit and vegetable crops, are vital to agriculture in the United States—California almond growers, for example, rely on beekeepers to provide pollinators for over 835,000 acres of almond trees. However, in 2006, reports emerged of a widespread condition called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which all of the worker bees suddenly vanish. One result of the declining bee population is that the cost to rent hives has tripled in the past decade. In response, the University of Georgia and 14 collaborating institutions began a NIFA-funded “Protection of Managed Bees” project. Researchers have identified varroa mites as a key cause of CCD. This project’s tech-transfer team helped honeybee queen breeders select for hygienic behavior, a trait that helps bees defend against varroa mites and other threats. A second bee project, the University of Maryland-led “Bee Informed Partnership,” builds on the research findings of the first. Additional tech teams offer assistance to diagnose diseases and pests, assist with stock selection and breeding for resistance traits, and enhance genetic diversity in bee stocks.

Natural adhesive reduces air pollutants

Wood adhesives are mostly made from non-renewable, petroleum-based chemicals and may contain the hazardous chemical formaldehyde. Oregon State University has successfully developed an environmentally friendly wood adhesive from soybean flour for use in the commercial production of indoor plywood. By replacing the hazardous chemicals with soy flour adhesive, plywood production plants have reduced the emission of hazardous air pollutants by 90 percent, and this biobased product is contributing to creation of additional jobs in rural communities.

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