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You are here:Home / Newsroom / Newsletters / NIFA Updates / NIFA Update – October 11, 2012

NIFA Update — October 11, 2012

NIFA Update, from the Office of the Director, is a biweekly newsletter for research, education, and Extension partners at land-grant universities and other cooperating institutions.


  • 2008 Farm Bill Expires
  • National Academy of Sciences to Evaluate AFRI
  • NIFA Assessing its own Portfolio of Programs
  • NIFA Developing New Strategic Plan
  • NIFA at Tri-Societies Meeting
  • National Grantsmanship Workshop: A Focus on Partnerships
  • Senate Recognizes 50th Anniversary of the Forestry Act



  • Secretary Vilsack Designates 1 Million Conservation Acres to Support Wildlife Habitat Restoration
  • Secretary Vilsack Announces Funding to Improve Electric Service in Rural Communities
  • USDA Investment to Strengthen Markets, Economic Opportunity for Farmers and Ranchers



  • Partner to Promote the Census of Agriculture
  • National Grantsmanship Workshop: A Focus on Partnerships


Awards and Recognition

  • Curt Deville’s Golden Anniversary
  • A. J. Dye Award for Diversity
  • Director’s Awards for Excellence
  • NIFA Partnership Awards

  • Next issue of NIFA Update is October 24

2008 Farm Bill Expires

Many programs and policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) were authorized under the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (“2008 Farm Bill”) through September 30, 2012. Authority or funding provided under the 2008 Farm Bill for USDA to operate a number of these programs expired on October 1, 2012, including the following NIFA programs: the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program, the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, and the Biodiesel Fuel Education Program.  Congress has not yet passed a 2012 Food, Farm, and Jobs Act or other legislation to extend the authority for USDA to carry out these programs, and USDA cannot make new commitments to these programs.

Because the authority for these programs has expired, NIFA cannot move forward on the release of new RFAs for these programs.  NIFA can continue to manage existing grant awards that were made in FY 2012 and previous years. Note that two of our mandatory-funded programs, Community Food Projects and Risk Management Education, receive funding that is subject to the Office of Management and Budget operating guidance and legislative provisions of the FY 2013 Continuing Resolution.  Therefore, these programs are not impacted by the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill.

National Academy of Sciences to Evaluate AFRI

NIFA has awarded a grant to The National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council (NRC), Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources (BANR) to evaluate the effectiveness and processes of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI).  BANR played a similar role in reviewing previous competitive grant programs of USDA.  This assessment will provide objective conclusions and advice as the agency moves forward.   NIFA has charged BANR to examine several aspects of the AFRI program, including:  

  • The relevance, quality, and performance of AFRI
  • NIFA funding mechanisms
  • The process of setting annual funding priorities, including the shift to the five NIFA Challenge Areas
  • The balance of Challenge Area program grants vs. Foundational program grants
  • The scale of the grants—is AFRI’s funding of larger grants the appropriate scale?  Compare AFRI’s larger scale grants to the former National Research Initiative approach of funding smaller scale grants, in terms of their effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes
  • Indications of whether AFRI is achieving its stated goals and outcomes
  • Identify measures of the effectiveness and efficiency of AFRI’s operation:  From RFA development to award
  • The diversity of grant recipients and the techniques NIFA uses to ensure diversity
  • Assessment of the different panel processes that occur at NIFA depending upon the need.  Some panels have been and may be virtual panels as well as face-to-face panels.  NIFA is interested in the NRC perspective on the effectiveness of the different panel processes that occur
  • The length of grants.  Currently, grants are awarded from 1 to 5 years
  • What is AFRI’s role in advancing science in relation to other research and grant programs inside of USDA?  How complementary is AFRI to other federal R&D programs, such as those of the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy?

The assessment is expected to take place over the next 20 months culminating with a full report from BANR by October 2014.

NIFA Assessing its own Portfolio of Programs

NIFA has begun a new round of portfolio assessments this year. There are five phases of this cycle: Stakeholder Input, Portfolio Strategic Planning, Planning Implementation, Portfolio Assessment, and Portfolio Reporting.  The following portfolios are focused on supporting NIFA’s vision, mission, and priorities. These portfolios were configured based on program groupings under NIFA’s priorities and organizational structure.

  • Sustainable Agricultural Systems
  • Bio-energy
  • Climate Change
  • Food Safety
  • Human Nutrition
  • Youth Development
  • Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Education/Multicultural Alliances
  • International Programs
  • Environmental Systems

Each portfolio team has already completed a pre-planning inventory and is nearing completion of a portfolio planning document from which to implement its programs.   Subsequently, beginning in 2014, each portfolio will utilize an external objective panel process that will include experts from around the nation, including the land-grant universities, other universities, commodity groups, other government agencies, and other nationally recognized experts.  Each portfolio will then produce a Portfolio Quality Improvement Plan to build on the conclusions and recommendation presented from the portfolio assessment panel. 

NIFA Developing New Strategic Plan

NIFA is developing its first strategic plan, which will be the result of the many internal and external stakeholder listening sessions.  A group of national program leaders (NPL) and NIFA leadership who are serving on the Core Team will develop the plan in coordination with NPLs, administrative staff, and NIFA leadership throughout the agency.  The new strategic plan will include aspects of the NIFA portfolio plans; the USDA Strategic Plan; and the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Undersecretary Action Plan.  The goal is to produce a dynamic plan to help steer NIFA strategically into the future as we strive to fulfill our mission and vision.  We expect to publish the NIFA Strategic Plan within the next few months. 

NIFA at Tri-Societies Meeting

NIFA will have a significant presence at the 2012 International Annual Meetings of The American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America (the “Tri-Societies”) October 21-24 in Cincinnati, OH.  NIFA’s $150 million portfolio in Agriculture Science for Climate Variability and Change will be showcased in five special sessions.  The conference is expecting  more than 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students to attend.  Each 4-hour session will illustrate NIFA’s unique approach in combining research, education, and Extension to deal with climate change mitigation and adaptation.  Also, on October 22, there will be a poster session for the 2010 AFRI grantees in Climate Change and Bioenergy. 

Senate Recognizes 50th Anniversary of the Forestry Act

The U.S. Senate on October 3 passed a resolution (S. Res. 576) celebrating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Act, which recognized the importance of scientific research in forestry as the driving force behind progress in developing and utilizing the nation’s forests. The act aligned state universities and the federal government as partners in forestry research activities by providing significant graduate student support, resulting in 8,500 master’s degrees and 2,600 doctoral degrees.  The McIntire-Stennis Act was signed by President John F. Kennedy on October 10, 1962.

NIFA in the News


NIFA Lists Open Requests for Grant Applications

Funding Opportunity

Closing Date


Agriculture and Food Research Initiative - Food Safety

December 5, 2012

Jeanette Thurston

Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases

December 5, 2012

Peter Johnson

National Robotics Initiative: The Realization of Co-Robots Acting in Direct Support of Individuals and Groups

December 11, 2012

Daniel Schmoldt


NIFA advertises all of its funding opportunities through “Find Grant Opportunities” on the website. This site is searchable and contains summary information on all federal funding opportunities with links to the full announcements. Users can search announcements by topic, funding agency, and date, as well as subscribe to an email notification service based on these parameters.

Secretary Vilsack Designates 1 Million Conservation Acres to Support Wildlife Habitat Restoration

LEWIS, Iowa, Oct. 8, 2012—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the allocation of 400,000 acres to support conservation and restoration of wildlife and their habitats as part of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Under Vilsack's leadership, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has enrolled more than 12 million acres in CRP, a voluntary program available to agricultural producers to help them use marginal and environmentally sensitive land to bring conservation and economic benefits for their land and communities. Today's announcement fulfills Vilsack's commitment made last spring to commit 1 million acres for special initiatives to restore grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat.  Visit the USDA Newsroom to read the entire article.

Secretary Vilsack Announces Funding to Improve Electric Service in Rural Communities

ATLANTA, Ga., Oct. 4, 2012 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced funding to modernize and improve the efficiency of rural electric generation and transmission systems. Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager made the announcement on Vilsack's behalf during a speech before members of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Today's announcement includes a $30 million loan guarantee to Jefferson Energy Cooperative, which serves parts of 11 Georgia counties.

Vilsack announced last month that USDA met its goal to finance $250 million in smart grid technologies in fiscal year 2012. Today's announcement includes support for $9.8 million in smart grid technologies.  Visit the USDA Newsroom to read the entire article.

USDA Investment to Strengthen Markets, Economic Opportunity for Farmers and Ranchers

MADISON, Wis., Oct. 1, 2012–Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $101 million in grants to support America's specialty crops producers, who provide the fruits, vegetables, nuts and other nutritious foods for millions of healthy American meals each day. Approximately $55 million of the total will be invested in 56 specialty crop block grants to states that fund 748 initiatives across the country to strengthen markets and expand economic opportunities for local and regional producers. An additional $46 million will go to support new and continuing research and extension activities to address challenges and opportunities for growers and businesses that rely on a sustainable, profitable specialty crops industry.

The goal of USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands received grants this year, totaling $55 million. Review online the 2012 project summaries and view a list of awards by location. Visit the USDA Newsroom to read the entire article.

Partner to Promote the Census of Agriculture

The Census of Agriculture is the nation’s leading source of information on U.S. agriculture and is used to shape many local, state and national farm services, programs, and policies. You can partner with USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) to help every farmer understand the ways the Census of Agriculture benefits their life, their operation, and their community. Your help is needed to spread this message and show others “There’s Strength in Numbers.”  NASS provides a Census promotional tool kit, opportunities, and ideas. We encourage you to use these materials to help spread the word that the 2012 Census of Agriculture is your voice, your future, your responsibility.  Contact Sue duPont, (202) 690-8122, or Krissy Young, (202) 690-8123, for more information.

National Grantsmanship Workshop: A Focus on Partnerships

On December 11, NIFA national program leaders, in partnership with the University of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical (NC A&T) State University are offering the fourth in a series of 1-day national workshops covering the preparation and management of competitively awarded grants.   This year’s program will cover a number of new topics. New speakers will offer unique perspectives on thinking like a peer-review panelist; integrating research, education, and Extension; writing impact statements; and forming public-private partnerships and making them work.  Audience participation will include both on-site and remote attendees.  The program will be hosted on the NC A&T campus in Greensboro, NC; however, remote participants will have the option of viewing a live webcast or accessing an archived version for post-workshop viewing.  Registration is free, but space is limited for the on-site audience.  Visit the NC A&T workshop website to view the agenda and register.

Curt Deville’s Golden Anniversary

2012 marks the 50th year of government service for Curtiland Deville, Director of NIFA’s Equal Opportunity Staff.  Deville received a 50-year length-of-service certificate from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to honor the achievement.  Deville’s government service began with the Peace Corps, where he served as a volunteer, state director, and associate director in Brazil.  He later worked for the U.S. Department of Commerce before joining the Federal Office of the Cooperative Extension System, where he served as an Extension specialist and program compliance review leader. Deville has served as co-chair of USDA’s Council of Civil Rights Directors and helped lead the department in the development of best practices to ensure compliance with equal employment opportunity and civil rights statutes.

On October 11, 2012, NIFA celebrated its annual Day of Appreciation by recognizing the following individuals and groups at an awards ceremony.

Teresa Bailey wins A.J. Dye Award for Diversity

NIFA presented Teresa Bailey the 2012 AJ Dye Award for Diversity for her outstanding and significant contributions to diversity, outreach, and advocacy.  Teresa stands out among her colleagues because she has embraced diversity and inclusion as a personal and professional core value that has led to growth and change for countless employees within the entire agency.  As co-chair of the new NIFA Diversity Task Force, liaison to the USDA Cultural Transformation Team, and former chair of the Diversity Working Group, Teresa has tirelessly upheld the mission to lead interested NIFA employees who value and support diversity and to foster, achieve, and sustain diversity within the agency.  Through her advocacy and leadership efforts she supports and cultivates a workplace that has continued to grow in its uniqueness. As a consequence of her leadership, employees are becoming more trusting, valued, and respected.  Outside of NIFA, Teresa supports diversity and social justice through her church; as an Election Judge with the Montgomery County Board of Elections; and as a Montgomery County Court-Appointed Special Advocate volunteer, where she serves is an advocate for abused or neglected children.  The combined personal and professional efforts of Teresa’s vision and dedication to diversity will help lead us to a better world where human beings are treated with dignity and respect.

Director’s Awards for Excellence

The NIFA Director’s Awards for Excellence recognize employees for their outstanding achievements and significant contributions in supporting the mission of NIFA and its client organizations through actions that clearly exceed normal job responsibilities.  There are awards in three categories:  Administrative Support, Administrative and Technical, and Science and Education.

Terri Joya, administrative officer of NIFA’s Institute of Food Production and Sustainability (IFPS), received the 2012 Director’s Award for Excellence in Administrative Support.  Throughout the past year, Joya has been the cog that keeps the wheels turning in IFPS.  She makes it her business to know how to get things done within the federal system while being frugal with taxpayer dollars.  Her recent assumption of Human Resources (HR)-related responsibilities has created great efficiencies within IFPS; she has become the IFPS point of contact for personnel issues, working cooperatively with HR staff and IFPS supervisors on recruitment actions related to both federal employees and panel managers.  Terri also assists with the on-boarding of new employees and makes sure that the weekly reports to HR are forwarded in a timely manner and makes status checks to ensure that panel managers are sworn in prior to beginning work.

The 2012 Director’s Award for Excellence in Administrative and Technical was given to Betty Lou Gilliland, Management and Policy Officer within the Office of the Director.  Gilliland was recognized for her outstanding service to NIFA and its customers by bringing a remarkable talent for organization and efficiency to the agency.  In every facet of NIFA’s operations, Betty Lou’s hand is visible: establishing a new protocol to handle controlled correspondence that has made NIFA a department leader in this regard; working closely with GovTrip officials and the travel unit to ensure that training is available and that NIFA employees are skilled in the use of GovTrip tools; utilizing historical calendar data to predict upcoming deadlines from the department well in advance of official notification; scheduling regular and routine meetings with our HRD office and at her request receives and distributes to leadership an ongoing report on the status of all active personnel actions; and taking responsibility for coordinating and leading agency-wide training sessions for employees, as well as all-staff meetings.  Betty Lou serves as an interface between many administrative offices and most of the program offices of NIFA, saving both sides tremendous amounts of time, energy, and resources through her own energetic efficiency and willingness to take on additional tasks.  Betty Lou is the first (and often the only necessary) point of contact for personnel, travel, procurement, and other administrative queries.  The Director and Deputy Directors rely on Betty Lou’s guidance and have total confidence in her advice.  Her knowledge of “how things work in USDA” is profound and is an invaluable resource in the day-to-day operations of the agency.

The recipient of the 2012 Director’s Award for Excellence in Science and Education is Elizabeth Ley, program specialist in the Division of Plant Systems-Protection, within the Institute of Food Production and Sustainability.  She was recognized for her exceptional service to NIFA and excellence in serving our customers, grantees, and land-grant universities.  Liz functions at the highest level of productivity and efficiency in the agency and provides a level of leadership that would be considered commendable by colleagues at higher job classifications.  She repeatedly identifies issues in processes used in NIFA and works toward solutions to those issues.  As co-lead of the eGrants Stakeholder Group, Liz has helped to reinvigorate this group as an eGrants change advisory board.  Her leadership in developing the business cases for the award amendment process and issues with PRS and virtual panels have helped identify these as two key priority items for improvement.  Liz has also worked to identify issues and concerns with the conversion to ASAP for our grantees.  She queried over 70 awards and worked with grantees to determine the best course of action on how to resolve account set-up or drawdown issues.  This extra effort is characteristic of Liz’s general work style and, as a result, our stakeholders have been provided with exceptional service.  Liz works tirelessly to promote the role and importance of ESG while maintaining contact with the appropriate task forces to ensure ESG activities align and support those activities.  Liz is truly a partner in the development of RFAs and always offers suggestions for improvement.  Her engagement in the process has proven to be a real complement to those with whom she has worked.

NIFA Partnership Awards

The 2012 Partnership Awards for exemplary work and outstanding contribution in support of the USDA mission and for their positive impacts on agriculture were presented to the lead institution for each project:

  • Mission Integration: University of Nevada, Reno, All 4 Kids: Healthy, Happy, Active, Fit.  For All 4 Kids produced positive outcomes as it promotes healthy eating and physical activity to preschoolers and their families.
  • Multistate Efforts: Southern Region Small Fruit Consortium. For successful regionalization that focused on improving the knowledge base and service to small fruit growers in the Southern region of the United States.
  • Innovative Program Models: University of Florida, Obesity Prevention in Children and Adolescents. For development of Extension nutrition education materials about childhood obesity for children/caregivers to increase knowledge and influence behavior change.
  • Effective and Efficient Use of Resources: Cornell University, International Programs, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  For outstanding contribution to the strengthening of United States agriculture through effective international engagement in research, education, and Extension.

The next NIFA issue is planned for October 24. Submit news items to: by October 19. If you have questions about Update, please contact the Editor: Judy Rude, public affairs specialist, NIFA Communications Staff.

To subscribe or unsubscribe to this newsletter, please send an e-mail message to Judy Rude. In the body of the message, type: subscribe nifa-update OR unsubscribe nifa-update. Back issues of NIFA Update are available on the NIFA website.

Sonny Ramaswamy, Director

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or part of an individual’s income is derived from any public assistance program. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA’s TARGET Center at 202-720-2600 (voice and TDD). To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call 800-795-3272 (voice) or 202-720-6382 (TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Questions? Comments? Last Updated: 10/11/2012