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You are here:Home / Newsroom / Newsletters / NIFA Updates / NIFA Update–December 23, 2013

NIFA Update — December 23, 2013

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.



  • Director’s Message
  • Celebration Day Honors NIFA Team Efforts
  • NIFA Grants Support Organic Agriculture Research
  • NIFA Announces Grants to Help Small Business Strengthen Innovation in Private Industry
  • USDA and DOE Fund Seven Research Projects to Develop Plant Feedstocks for Bioenergy
  • NIFA Clips
  • NIFA Lists Open Requests for Grant Applications
  • NIFA Changes Awards and Award Terms
  • Current and Pending Support Form



  • Grants for Food Service Equipment Help Schools Improve the Quality of Meals
  • Fact Sheet: Supporting Innovation That Boosts Agriculture and Creates Jobs in Rural America
  • USDA Creates Emergency Response Framework to Combat Citrus Disease


  • ASU Announces Interim Associate Director
  • Cornell Celebrates 50 Years of Global Engagement


  • Next issue of NIFA Update is January 15, 2014


Director’s Message

As we close out 2013, I and the staff of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) thank you—our partners—for another great year. Your tremendous work to advance research, education, and extension is making significant impacts in the agriculture and food sectors, the environment, local communities and the quality of life for all Americans.

No doubt 2013 was an extremely challenging year on many fronts: Spending cuts due to sequestration AND RESCISIONS, the government shutdown, employee furloughs, and the loss of farm bill MANDATORY program funds. The year, however, brought us much opportunity to build on our past successes and redouble our efforts to meet NIFA’s mission to lead food and agricultural sciences to create a better future for the nation and the world.

Looking ahead to 2014, we are anxious to see a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill finally passed so that NIFA can continue to invest in critical research, education, and extension programs to address a broad array of problems facing U.S. agriculture, including food supply and security, bio-energy development, increased climate variability, plant and animal health, water availability and quality, food safety, and nutrition and childhood obesity to name a few.

We have planned a number of significant activities and initiatives for 2014, including a new Strategic Plan that will be released in conjunction with a new USDA Strategic Plan. Our plan, developed in collaboration with our partners, will provide us a multi-year blueprint to:

  • Drive exemplary and relevant research, education, and extension program;
  • Transform NIFA into a model agency with a highly motivated workforce;
  • Streamlined effective technology, policies, and processes; and
  • Increase America’s global preeminence in agricultural sciences.


We are making great progress in our grants modernization effort. We continue to work with the National Institutes of Health to identify services we can use or leverage from them to streamline and enhance our grants program.

Finally, our REEport improvement project is making huge strides. We have met with many of our regional research executive directors and land-grant university business officers to listen to their concerns and get their input on how we can improve REEport’s software. Furthermore, we have slated several improvements to system speed, performance and management functioning, and integrated data flow from C-REEMS to REEport that will improve the non-capacity user experience. Stay tuned!

Again, many thanks for an outstanding year. I look forward to working with all of you again in the New Year and wish you safe and happy holidays with family and friends.


Sonny Ramaswamy
NIFA Director


Celebration Day Honors NIFA Team Efforts

NIFA recently held a Celebration Day in the spirit of the season and to thank employees for all that they do at NIFA and also to celebrate our colleagues’ efforts and their valuable contributions that make every day a success for NIFA.

NIFA Director Dr. Ramaswamy recognized several agency task force teams, co-chairs, and NIFA and land-grant university staffs for receiving the USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Mission Area and Secretary Honor Awards:

  • Diversity and Best Place to Work Task Force for developing NIFA’s Diversity and Inclusion Week. Employees had an opportunity to interact with colleagues and learn the importance of diversity in the workplace.
  • Human Capital Development Task Force for producing a comprehensive report on employee development and training.  The agency will incorporate recommendations from that report into the NIFA Human Capital and Strategic Plans.
  • Infrastructure and Capacity and Competitive Programs Task Forces for examining agency processes and making recommendations to improve the ways we do business.


Several task force co-chairs will rotate off in 2014 and were recognized for their exemplary leadership.


Two NIFA groups were recognized for receiving the REE Mission Area Award and a Secretary’s Honor Award.

  • REEport Business Development Team received a Mission Area Merit Award for management excellence in creating a grants reporting system that significantly increases efficiency, eliminates paper, and saves money.
  • Third Thursday Team, Kentucky State University originated from a 2-year grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program for developing and sustaining an educational program that has empowered over 12,000 farmers and positively impacted the quality of life and economic vitality for rural communities.


Other awards included:

  • Jill Auburn, representing NIFA on the USDA Scientific Integrity Policy Team, received the REE Merit Award for Management Excellence.
  • Henry Doan, Planning, Reporting, and Accountability staff, received the President’s Call to Service Award.  This award is presented to employees who served 4,000 hours or more of service with a qualifying organization over the employee’s lifetime.


NIFA Grants Support Organic Agriculture Research

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 – NIFA announced five grants to support research, education, and extension programs that will improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers.
The grants include more than $3 million through the Organic Transitions Program (ORG),an essential part of USDA’s commitment to the organic farm sector. The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI), USDA’s flagship program to fund organic production, remains unauthorized until Congress authorizes a new Farm Bill. Visit the NIFA Newsroom to read the full release.

NIFA Announces Grants to Help Small Business Strengthen Innovation in Private Industry

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 – NIFA announced more than $18 million in grants to small businesses to conduct research and development that will lead to technological innovations in the agriculture industry. USDA made the grants through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, with the goal of stimulating technological innovations in the private sector and strengthening the role of small businesses in meeting federal research and development needs. The program also fosters and encourages participation by women-owned and socially- or economically-disadvantaged small business firms.

Companies initially apply for Phase I feasibility studies, which may be followed by Phase II research and development projects. Phase I grants are limited to $100,000 and a duration of 8 months, while Phase II grants may reach $450,000 and last 24 months. Approximately 50 percent of Phase I projects continue on to Phase II. Visit the NIFA Newsroom to read the full release.

USDA and DOE Fund Seven Research Projects to Develop Plant Feedstocks for Bioenergy

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 − USDA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced $8 million in research grants to develop non-food feedstocks that can be used for bioenergy. The grants are part of a broader effort to develop domestic renewable energy and advanced biofuels, providing a more secure future for America’s energy needs and enhancing rural economies.

Overall, the USDA and DOE projects improve biomass—including selected trees and grasses—grown for biofuels by increasing their yield, quality, and ability to adapt to extreme environments. Researchers will rely on the most advanced techniques of modern genomics to develop breeding and other strategies to improve the crops. The research will be conducted on switchgrass, poplar, and pine, among other plants. Visit the NIFA Newsroom to read the full release.

NIFA in the News


NIFA Lists Open Requests for Grant Applications

Funding Opportunity

Closing Date


Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction using Earth System Models (EaSM)

December 23, 2013

Nancy Cavallaro

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

January 21, 2014

Daniel Schmoldt

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative: NIFA Fellowships Grant Program

February 20, 2014

Ray A. Ali

Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy: A Joint Research Solicitation - USDA, DOE

February 25, 2014

Ed Kaleikau

Distance Education Grants for Institutions of Higher Education in Insular Areas (DEG)

March 7, 2014

Saleia Afele-Faamuli

Resident Instruction Grants Program for Institutions of Higher Education in Insular Areas (RIIA)

March 7, 2014

Saleia Afele-Faamuli

Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program (BRAG)

March 19, 2014

Shing F. Kwok

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Foundational Program

September 30, 2014

Effie Baldwin


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.

NIFA Changes Awards and Award Terms increases the transparency of federal spending by allowing the public to readily identify how their tax dollars are being spent. Agencies have new reporting requirements that affect the reliability of data on the site. NIFA began, in October 2013, to include in Item 8 of the award (Form NIFA-2009) a unique Federal Award Identification Number (FAIN). The award terms will require that the FAIN be included on each sub award under the federal award. The FAIN is to be used when reporting award financial data to

Current and Pending Support Form

NIFA’s Awards Management Division (AMD) is now accepting “0 percent” when it is reported in a proposed project’s current and pending support for key personnel. Previously, AMD would have the current and support information modified to have at least 1 percent effort reported. AMD realizes that some individuals may have, for example, an oversight role that does not rise to the level of 1 percent or it may be voluntary uncommitted effort. For these reasons, AMD will now accept 0 percent when it is reported for current and pending support.


Grants for Food Service Equipment Help Schools Improve the Quality of Meals

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 − Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA will award $11 million in grants to help schools purchase needed equipment to make preparing and serving healthier meals easier and more efficient.

In addition to the District of Columbia and Guam, 14 states were selected to receive grants based on free- and reduced-price participation in the National School Lunch Program and greatest unmet need. They are Arkansas, California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. States will competitively award the funds to school districts to purchase needed equipment, with priority given to districts serving a high percentage of low-income children.

Outdated equipment can pose a barrier to preparing healthy meals on a large scale. The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released the report Serving Healthy School Meals: U.S. Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment, which focuses on school equipment needs based on a survey of school food service personnel. Visit the USDA Newsroom to read the full release.

FACT SHEET: Supporting Innovation That Boosts Agriculture and Creates Jobs in Rural America

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the importance of farm bill research programs that enable USDA researchers and those at land-grant universities across the nation to carry out groundbreaking discoveries, strengthen agriculture, and grow business opportunity in rural America. Vilsack has called on Congress to expedite passage of a new Food, Farm, and Jobs Bill that continues record efforts to spur innovation and create jobs across rural America.

Amazing scientific breakthroughs have helped our farmers, ranchers, and growers increase production on the same amounts of land, using fewer inputs. In fact, studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research returns $20 to the economy. Advanced new products are being created across the country using materials grown in America's farm fields—with more than 3,000 U.S. companies creating advanced biobased products. In addition, clean, renewable fuel energy and new energy efficiency technologies are helping families and businesses across the nation, reducing our reliance on foreign oil. Visit the USDA Newsroom to read the full release.

USDA Creates Emergency Response Framework to Combat Citrus Disease

WASHINGTON, December 12 − USDA announced the creation of a new, unified emergency response framework to address Huanglongbing (HLB), a serious disease of citrus that affects several U.S. states and territories. This new framework will allow USDA and its many partners to better coordinate HLB resources, share information and develop operational strategies to maximize effectiveness.

"To jump start this initiative and affirm our commitment to industry, USDA is also providing $1 million to be used in support of research projects that can bring practical and short-term solutions to the growers in their efforts to combat this disease,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative of the farm bill, USDA has provided $9 million in research to blocking the ability of insects to spread HLB to healthy trees. We need Congress to quickly pass a new Farm, Food, and Jobs Bill that continues to support this kind of research to protect a crop worth more than $3 billion in the last harvest."

The new framework will bring together USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Agricultural Research Service, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture, along with state departments of agriculture and the citrus industry into a Multi-Agency Coordination (MAC) Group for HLB. It will provide industry with a single contact for all the federal and state entities that work on citrus issues and better enable the collective to collaborate on policy decisions, establish priorities, allocate critical resources, and collect, analyze, and disseminate information. Visit the USDA Newsroom to read the full release.


Alcorn State University Announces Interim Associate Director

Dr. Wesley Lloyd Whittaker was appointed interim associate director for Alcorn State University Research for the School of Agriculture, Research, Extension and Applied Sciences (AREAS). Whittaker served as professor and program leader for Agricultural Economics/International Agriculture within the Department of Agriculture.  His research in recent years revolves around a better understanding of the nature and implications on rural labor market activities, investment in human capital and income inequality, and the concentration of poverty in areas of Mississippi. Whittaker has a Ph.D. in agricultural and consumption economics and human resource development, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. an M.S. in  agricultural economics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and a B.S. in  agricultural economics with minor in economics, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University–Greensboro, where he graduated summa cum laude. 

Cornell Celebrates 50 Years of Global Engagement

Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences celebrates 50 years of global engagement using digital video conferencing. NIFA’s Center for International Programs joined other panelists on December 4 in a day-long symposium that considered the past, present, and future of globally-engaged land-grant university agricultural programs.  NIFA emphasized the growing stake that American agriculture has in global engagement, and discussed extension, teaching, and research programs that are improving agriculture here at home by fostering international partnerships. Contact Hiram Larew, CIP director, for more information.

The next NIFA issue is planned for January 15, 2014. Submit news items to: by January 8, 2014. 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: 12/23/2013