NIFA Update, Dec. 15

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                                                                                                                       Dec. 15, 2016


Success Story

Nanostructured Biosensors Detect Pesticide, Help Preserve Environment

By Selina Meiners, NIFA

When does too much of a good thing become a bad thing? That’s the question Dr. Jonathan Claussen, assistant professor at Iowa State University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and his team of researchers aim to help farmers answer when it comes to pesticide use. Underuse can harm farmers’ crops, while overuse can result in runoff into the soil or waterways.

Claussen and his team created a flexible, low cost and disposable biosensor that can detect pesticides in soil. This biosensor is made of graphene, a strong and stable nanoparticle, and provides instantaneous feedback, as opposed to the time and money it would otherwise take to send a sample to a lab and await results.

NIFA supported the project with an Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) grant as part of the Nanotechnology Program

News from NIFA

NIFA Announces $4 Million in Funding for Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research

NIFA announced the availability of up to $4 million for research to help federal regulatory agencies make science-based evaluations about the environmental effects of genetically engineered (GE) organisms including plants, animals, insects, and microorganisms. This funding is made available through NIFA’s Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants (BRAG) Program. The BRAG program supports applied and fundamental research to help federal regulators evaluate questions on hazard potential, severity and extent of potential hazards, and other effects of GE organisms. BRAG proposals may support standard research or conference proposals that bring together stakeholders to review science-based data relevant to risk assessment or risk management related to genetic engineering. Letters of intent are due by Jan. 26, 2017, and proposals are due by March 30, 2017. See the BRAG request for applications for details. 

Update on FY 2017 Appropriations

NIFA is currently operating under a fiscal year (FY) 2017 temporary Continuing Resolution (CR) that provides funds for our discretionary programs through April 28, 2017.

On Dec. 9, the Senate passed the FY 2017 CR, providing appropriations to fund the Federal Government through April 28, 2017.  The House had previously passed the bill on Dec. 8.  The Agriculture Appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies, including NIFA, is included in the CR. 

The previous CR had appropriated funding through Dec. 9, at 0.496 percent below the FY 2016 level. The current CR provides additional funding for NIFA at the FY 2016 level, less 0.1901 percent or an annualized reduction of about $2.5 million. 

NIFA will continue to make quarterly formula payments for most Capacity programs. We will also continue to release Requests for Applications based on estimated 2017 funding levels for competitive programs. Note that the CR does not impact the funding amounts for NIFA’s mandatory programs. However, mandatory programs are impacted by a 6.9 percent reduction due to a Sequestration Order for FY 2017. Additional information on the FY 2017 appropriations will be provided as it becomes available. The link to the Public Law can be found on  


4-H and NASA Partner on Space Age STEM Curriculum

NASA and 4-H, are teaming up with Astronaut and 4-H alumna Peggy Whitson to inspire youth to develop life skills for success inside and outside the classroom. The online resource hub “Expeditionary Skills for Life,” will feature lessons and content built around the skills needed to become an astronaut that also help students succeed across the board. A recent video highlights the new program that will be available to the public in Jan. 2017. Whitson arrived on the International Space Station (ISS) in November and will take command of the ISS in late February when the current commander Shane Kimbrough returns to Earth. The curriculum pairs Whitson’s stay on the ISS with monthly themes such as teamwork, leadership and self-care.  

New Capacity Grant Program Webpage

NIFA’s Office of Grants and Financial Management is pleased to announce the launch of a new resources webpage targeted towards capacity grantees. The page contains information and materials to assist capacity grantees with the fiscal and administrative requirements of their grants. The page can be accessed from the main Capacity Grants Program webpage under the Capacity Grant General Requirements link. 

OGFM has posted copies of Memoranda and other technical assistance materials developed and disseminated to grantees in 2016. Future communications from OGFM and the NIFA Director regarding capacity grants will be posted to this page as well, making it a repository where grantee staff can find copies of NIFA communications. 

Additionally, the capacity grantee resources page contains information and resources regarding the capacity grant prior approval for equipment requirement, including recorded webinars, Frequently Asked Questions, a template, and a submission checklist. Click here to access the Capacity Grantee Resources page.  

Organic Report

Taking Stock: Organic Research Investments 2002-2014

A recent analysis conducted by the Organic Farming Research Foundation concluded that, from 2002-2014, NIFA’s Organic Transitions (ORG) program and Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) have delivered a substantial body of valuable information and tools to organic producers and should be sustained through continued investment. Many of the projects funded by these programs delivered valuable information and tools to organic crop and livestock producers, while others laid groundwork for future outcomes. For more information, view the full report. For individuals interested in applying to these programs, proposals will be accepted for OREI through Jan. 19, 2017 and for ORG through March 9, 2017. 

Requests for Application RFAs

  • The FY 2017 Organic Transitions (ORG) Request for Applications (RFA) is now available for public viewing.  Go to the NIFA Funding Opportunity page for more program information, or the page that includes a synopsis of the funding opportunity, a link to the full announcement (RFA) and the application package.

  • The FY 2017 Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) RFA is now available for public viewing. Go to the NIFA Funding Opportunity page for more program information, or the page that includes a synopsis of the funding opportunity, a link to the full announcement (RFA) and the application package.

  • The FY 2017 Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy: A Joint Research Solicitation - USDA, DOE is now available for public viewing. Go to the NIFA Funding Opportunity page for more program information, or the page that includes a synopsis of the funding opportunity, a link to the full announcement (RFA) and the application package.



Dr. Gary Sherman to Retire

Dr. Gary Sherman, national program leader for Veterinary Science and Agrosecurity, Division of Animal Systems, Institute of Food Production and Sustainability, is retiring after 11 years of federal service effective Dec. 31. He accepted a position as Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation Partnerships at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. His first day at Virginia Tech is on Jan. 10, 2017. He plans to continue the partnership with NIFA, the land-grant universities, and other organizations.