Grants for Farm Solutions

Two programs fighting for the future of agriculture receive grants administered by the USDA for research and sustainable-farm advocacy.

by Dani Yokhna
Agriculture grants
Courtesy Stock.XCHNG
The USDA is providing funding for grants to be distributed through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program to educate and support a new generation of farmers.

This fall, the USDA seems to be turning over a new sustainable leaf as it awards grants to myriad candidates trying to make the agriculture world a bit greener. In accordance with these eco-friendly initiatives, the USDA has taken steps overall to ensure that the future of American-grown food is robust, bountiful and secure.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a subsidiary of the USDA, has been working through its own subsidiaries to spread the agricultural wealth, so to speak, by funding a bounty of farming initiatives that engage in sustainable practices and promote the future of farming. Through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, NIFA granted $46 million to fund research aimed at securing the future of the $50 billion agriculture industry. SCRI funded projects address five focus areas:

  • improving crop characteristics through plant breeding, genetics and genomics
  • addressing crop threats from pests and diseases
  • advancing crop-production efficiency, productivity and profitability
  • developing new innovations and technologies
  • expanding efforts to improve food safety

In the wake of pesticide toxicities, farming waste and runoff, agricultural monopolies, and escalating challenges brought on by drought and abundant rainfall, these grants, made possible by the 2008 Farm Bill, provide a foundation for developing long-lasting solutions.

These broad guidelines propel much research considered conventionally useful, such as studies of bacterial threats to greenhouse food crops. Other grants are going toward less obvious sustainable solutions: So you’re an organic gardener and that plastic container you bought your basil in is getting you down? Join the club. The University of Illinois has received $1.5 million of the grant funds to research biodegradable planting containers. The study will explore the development of various types of planters using natural fibers and determine which are best suited for the market and the planet.

In addition to the grants provided through SCRI, NIFA is administering grants through the Beginner Farmer and Rancher Development Program, to nurture a new generation of successful farmers. The program was awarded $75 million under the 2008 Farm Bill to assist programs that provide farmers with access to credit, land, markets and technical assistance.

Eight of the 40 BFRDP grants were awarded to organizations belonging to The Natural Sustainable Agriculture Commission. NSAC, a network that advocates the expansion of environmentally sustainable federal legislation in agriculture, comprises groups that support small- to mid-sized farmers, protect natural resources, and promote healthy communities and food for everyone. Programs like the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York are receiving the capital they need to continue training and mentoring beginning farmers.

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The funding for these grants promotes the potential that sustainable agricultural practice can offer. It demonstrates a shift towards the acceptance of green solutions to the growing complications that modern agriculturists face.

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