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SBIR Impact - March 2008

SBIR Impact is a quarterly newsletter for small businesses interested in the USDA-SBIR program and for institutions and organizations that support the small business community and rural America.

Program Update

Impacts

Reminders and Deadlines

Resources

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SBIR Staff and Responsibilities

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Review of Phase I proposal is complete and funding recommendations have been made. Project directors who submitted proposals should have received word via phone or e-mail about their recommendations. If you submitted a FY 2008 Phase I proposal and have not been informed about the status of your proposal, contact us at sbir@csrees.usda.gov. Information about the recommendation status of a proposal will be made available only to the project directors and/or authorized organizational officials. Information about new grantees will be posted on our abstracts page as soon as awards are made official, around May 1. We caution companies that have been recommended for an award about publicizing this information before the grant is made official. Grants are not official until a thorough administrative review of each recommended proposal has been completed by the CSREES Awards Management Branch.

The next USDA–SBIR Request for Applications (RFA) is tentatively scheduled to be released early
June 2008, with a closing date of September 4, 2008, for Phase I proposals. All FY 2009 proposals must be submitted electronically through Grants.gov.  Note that the registration process for submitting applications electronically can take as much as one month to complete, and registration must be finished prior to submitting a proposal.  If you intend to submit an application, you need not wait until the RFA is published but can begin the registration process immediately at www.grants.gov.

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Native grass is important for the restoration or reclamation of burned, mined, or otherwise disturbed lands, and the native seed industry is growing rapidly to meet the increasing demand for more seed species in commercial quantities. However, the seed morphology of many important species of native grasses makes the seed difficult to harvest, which results in limited supplies and high prices. Combines and other conventional harvesters, such as strippers, are often unable to effectively carry out one or more of the key steps of seed harvest: 1) dislodgement, 2) separation, 3) conveyance, and 4) offloading.

In a first Phase I/Phase II USDA–SBIR set of projects, Arbuckle Ranch, Inc. developed low–cost technology that is easy to manufacture and maintain, and is highly effective at dislodging (or “plucking”) difficult-to-harvest native grass seeds.  This technology involves a brush and combing drum that counter-rotate.  The next step find a way to efficiently convey the increased volume of dislodged seed to a collection receptacle. The challenge was to engage the seed in flight to prevent it from cohering and plugging the system because of awns, barbs, and other features.

In a second Phase I/Phase II USDA–SBIR set of projects, the Arbuckle Ranch team developed two models to address pneumatic conveyance needs.  To be commercially viable each had to mesh smoothly with Native Seedster's unique proprietary seed dislodgement mechanism.  In 2006, Arbuckle Ranch, Inc. spun off a wholly-owned subsidiary, Native Seedsters, Inc. (NSI), to produce and market grass seed harvesters. 

The first pneumatic conveyance system (PCS) model used a vacuum fan and cyclone separator approach.  The PCS vacuum engaged seed in flight and transported it through tubing for bagged or bulk collection on a trailer. The trailer could easily offload a standard 3’x3’x4’ seed tote bag. NSI commercially released a finished harvester in July 2007, and two units were sold and delivered later that year.  The first sale resulted in the customer saying of the harvester, “As I told you after our meeting, I believe your machine is probably the best harvester available for native seed that I’ve found” while harvesting switchgrass.

The Seedster’s patented seed dislodgement technology permits higher ground speed than a traditional combine, allowing it to cover more acres during the harvest window.  In-field separation is eliminated because seed is plucked with minimal impurities.  To effectively separate seed and chaff a combine must slow its ground speed.  The Seedster PCS-Vac handles the increased seed flow requirements, thus moving at a faster speed. This embodiment of technology effectively performs all four stages of harvesting for grass seed species that are difficult to harvest by conventional combine or strippers. 

Seedster developed its second pneumatic conveyance technology in the last months of 2007, at the conclusion of Phase II.  In this model, rather than using vacuum suction, a compact “air boost” mechanism supplements the airflow generated by the brush comb mechanism that conveys dislodged seed to a hopper.  Seed dislodgement, seed conveyance, and seed collection are consolidated in one loader-mounted header.  This model is referred to as the “Front Hopper Seedster,” or the “Seedster FH.”  Conduits and components were developed during the summer months by testing on Russian wild rye and camelina.  Tests using basin big sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata, in November and December helped fine-tune the shapes and conduits.  Sagebrush seeds, numbering 2 million per pound, were ideal to validate the design of the pneumatic flow.

Native Seedsters agreed to design for Ceres, Inc. a prototype seed harvester specialized to harvest upland and lowland switchgrass.  If the prototype (May 2008 delivery) meets specifications, Ceres will purchase several Switchgrass Seedsters. Ceres, an energy crop company, plans to sow thousands of acres of switchgrass, high-biomass sorghum, and other crops over the next 3 years to support a next-generation bio-refinery near St. Joseph, MO.

 

The SBIR Staff encourages all grantees to review the award terms and conditions, which detail the requirements for completing your grant, including deliverables and funding disbursal.  If you cannot locate the terms and conditions in your package, you may download a copy from the Grantee Resources page.

Proper acknowledgement of CSREES funding in published manuscripts, presentations, and news releases is critical for the success of the USDA SBIR program. We specifically ask that you use the following language to acknowledge this support:

“This project was supported by the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), Grant Number (Insert Grant Number Here).”

We strongly encourage you to acknowledge CSREES funding in interviews and articles that feature your company, as well as work that our program supports. This acknowledgement is beneficial for both the USDA SBIR program and the companies with whom we partner.

Finally, we ask that you use the CSREES logo on your PowerPoint presentations or posters at meetings. CSREES logos are available in several formats on our Web site.

Often the SBIR staff is asked if there are other funding opportunities other than the SBIR program.  The following additional funding opportunities are available to potential applicants.

SARE is a nationwide program that promotes environmentally sound profitable farming systems that enhance the quality of life for farm families and their communities. The program is administered through four regions, which award competitive grants to researchers, agricultural educators, farmers, ranchers, and students. SARE also supports a national outreach office that provides print and electronic information, including bulletins, books, and databases. 
The following  types of grants are available:

Research and Education Grants usually involve scientists, producers, and others in an interdisciplinary approach.  Awards generally range from $60,000 to $150,000.

Professional Development Grants offer educational opportunities for Cooperative Extension, National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and other agricultural professionals.

Producer Grants are awarded to farmers and ranchers who test innovative ideas and share the results with their neighbors.  Awards generally range between $1,000 and $30,000.

Partnership grants support on-farm research by extension, NRCS, and/or nonprofit organizations (only in the Northeast, Southern, and Western regions).

Sustainable Community Innovation grants forge connections between sustainable agriculture and rural community development. (only in the Northeast and Southern Regions).

Contact the appropriate SARE regional center for specific information on available funding options, application deadlines, and other information.

North Central Region  612–625–7027; ncrsare@umn.edu
Northeast Region  802–656–0471; nesare@uvm.edu
Southern Region  770–412–4787; info@southernsare.org
Western Region
  435–797–2257; wsare@ext.usu.edu

SARE has funded over 3,700 projects since 1988.  Examples of projects previously funded through the SARE program are available through its national database of projects. The database is searchable by keyword, title, project type, state, or region.

Several farmers and ranchers have successfully used SBIR to build upon smaller SARE producer grants, including:

  • SBIR supported a USDA Quality System Verification Program, which provides standard operating procedures for all-natural beef and free-range poultry. Diana Endicott, who received a SARE farmer/rancher grant in 1998 to explore consumer-directed marketing of natural beef, carried out this project.  Endicott later served on the North Central SARE Administrative Council.

  • Connecticut dairy farmer Matt Freund received a 2002 SARE farmer grant to test the feasibility of producing plant pots from digested dairy manure.  With SBIR funds, Freund and his brother tested and developed the product, which is now marketed as CowPots.

  • A 2002 SARE Research and Education grant to the Missouri Farmers Union supported a study of market opportunities and business models.  The study led to the development of Heritage Acres Foods, which then applied an SBIR grant to assess the feasibility of marketing heritage organic pork.  

The SARE Web site also offers tips on how to write successful proposals, print and electronic publications, success stories, a calendar of events, and contacts at the national, regional, and state levels.

The Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) offers a portfolio of competitive programs that support a wide range of research in the basic and applied sciences, including those that lead to practical outcomes and commercialization by small businesses.  Applicant eligibility varies by program. However, several applicants have successfully completed projects in different programs and transferred research results from basic and applied sciences to projects that have practical applications and commercial viability.  In addition, several small businesses have used CSREES programs to develop linkages with researchers at universities and government agencies to enhance their research expertise. Such projects that enhance and build relationships between universities, government agencies, and small businesses have accelerated the benefit of CSREES competitive grants to the nation. 

All CSREES competitive grants programs, especially the Integrated Research, Education, and Extension programs, strongly encourage applicants to bridge successful research in basic and applied sciences to projects that have practical outcomes.  To advance CSREES basic research to commercial applications, CSREES is developing a set of pages to provide additional information. Currently, this site includes descriptions on: (i) Advancing CSREES Basic Research Findings to Commercial Applications (background on selected programs); (ii) Government Agencies and Programs Promoting Public-Private Technology Transfer; and (iii) Lessons Learned from Successful Project Directors. We are seeking your assistance to help develop a site that is useful to all our applicants and grant recipients.  Also, we are soliciting questions to help develop a useful FAQ section.  Please send your comments, suggestions, and questions to sbir@csress.usda.gov

The USDA SBIR program has partnered with Larta Institute, a premier commercialization assistance organization, to develop and implement the 2008 USDA-Commercialization Assistance Program (USDA-CAP) for Phase II projects. The successful USDA-CAP workshop that was held January 29–30, 2008, assisted many of the Phase II awardees learning the steps to commercialize their technologies.  Workshop participants will receive information on completing the final steps of the program from Larta. For further information please contact the USDA SBIR program at sbir@csrees.usda.gov or Constanza Pachon of Larta Institute at 213.538.1451 or cpachon@larta.org.

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Dr. Deborah Sheely will attend the 2008 SBIR STTR National Spring Conference in Orlando FL, May 27–30, 2008.

Dr. Richard Hegg will attend the following manure management meetings in Florence, SC, (April 2–4); Barcelona, Spain, (April 15–18); Des Moines, IA, (May 18–19); and Boulder, CO, (May 28–29).  At the April 2–4 meeting in Florence, he will give an invited presentation about the SBIR Animal Manure Management program.

Dr. Charlie Cleland will attend the Long Island Regional SBIR Workshop at SUNY Stony Brook,
March 20.

Dr. Charlie Cleland will attend the 100th annual meeting of the National Shellfish Association in Providence, RI, April 6–10.

Dr. Charlie Cleland will attend the regional SBIR Conference that is being hosted by the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation in Louisville, KY, April 24–25.

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Dr. Pete Burfening

  • 8.3 Animal Production and Protection

Dr. Charles Cleland

  • 8.1 Forests and Related Resources
  • 8.4 Soil and Water Resources
  • 8.7 Aquaculture
  • 8.12 Small and Mid Size Farms

Dr. William Goldner

  • 8.2 Plant Production and Protection - Biology
  • 8.8 Biofuels and Biobased Products
  • 8.13 Plant Production and Protection - Engineering

Dr. Richard Hegg

  • 8.11 Animal Manure Management

Dr. S. Sureshwaran

  • 8.6 Rural Development
  • 8.9 Marketing and Trade

Dr. Dionne Toombs

  • 8.5 Food Science and Nutrition

Scott Dockum

  • General SBIR Program Support

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The USDA SBIR staff encourages feedback concerning this newsletter and, more broadly, the administration of the USDA SBIR program. We are committed to being responsive to the needs of applicants to the program and to those companies who have received USDA SBIR grants. Please send comments to sbir@csrees.usda.gov or call 202–401–4995.

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To receive email notification of future USDA SBIR Newsletter releases, send a message to sbir@csrees.usda.gov and type subscribe sbir in the subject line.

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