National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Stimulating innovation in American agriculture

u.s. agriculture

Open Access Government explores the work that the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is doing to sustain and advance U.S. agriculture

The U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is a federal agency within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is part of USDA’s Research, Education and Economics mission area. The agency administers federal funding to address agricultural issues that affect people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. On top of this, NIFA collaborates with leading scientists, policymakers, experts and educators in organisations throughout the world to find innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global problems. Advancing in agriculture-related sciences is vital as it bolsters the U.S. economy, enhances the safety of the nation’s food supply and improves the nutrition and well-being of American citizens, all while enforcing sustainability and climate preservation. Increasing U.S. agricultural production, while decreasing the American population’s environmental footprint, is the ultimate challenge NIFA faces today.

Investing in, and supporting, initiatives will ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. USDA-NIFA competitive and capacity funds totalling over $1.7 billion annually are invested in local communities every day across America. A recent example of this is the investment of $4.8 million to support 12 projects that will offer workforce training by community colleges. Increasing training opportunities for the food and agricultural workforce sector will help it prosper for years to come.

“Community colleges provide substantial workforce development throughout the nation,” said NIFA Director Scott Angle. “These awards will lead to workers earning a two-year degree or an industry-accepted credential, which will open better job opportunities in the food and agricultural sector.”

Agricultural and Food Research Initiative These awards were made possible through the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) Agricultural Workforce Training program priority area. The AFRI is the nation’s leading competitive grants program for agricultural sciences. NIFA provides AFRI grants to support research, education and extension activities in six priority areas:

  • Plant health, production and products.
  • Animal health, production and products.
  • Food safety, nutrition, and health.
  • Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment.
  • Agriculture systems and technology.
  • Agriculture economics and rural communities.

AFRI-funded science is crucial to meeting food, fibre, and fuel demands as the world’s population races towards a projected 9 billion by 2050. On top of this, the globe is suffering from diminishing land and water resources and, of course, increasingly variable climatic conditions. AFRI programs need to manage this alongside helping to develop new technologies and a workforce that will advance U.S. national security, energy self-sufficiency and the health of its citizens.

COVID-19 rapid response

2020 has brought about a number of obstacles. NIFA has risen to the challenge, by providing significant support through expanding its AFRI program to include an additional focus area: COVID-19 Rapid Response to Novel Coronavirus Impacts Across Food and Agricultural Systems. The support is targeted at the most critical issues facing university researchers, small businesses and consumers across America during the pandemic. Towards the end of 2020, NIFA announced nearly $14 million to help U.S. universities find scientific solutions amid the pandemic in this nationwide effort so far, with more projects to be funded in the next few months.

“It was quickly evident at the onset of the pandemic that the food supply, agricultural systems, families and education – key focus areas for USDA and our partners – would be greatly impacted by all the changes facing our society,” stated USDA-NIFA Acting Director Parag Chitnis. “USDA-NIFA is uniquely positioned to help fund rapid response research, outreach and education efforts, while continuing to support our base research, Extension and 4-H youth development programs that are in place at all times to respond to producer and consumer needs, large and small, across the nation.”

It is clear that these investments are directly supporting the long-term prosperity and global pre-eminence of U.S. agriculture. This is the overarching mission of NIFA.


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