NIFA Update - May 13, 2020

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Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                                        May 13, 2020

NIFA Announces New Associate Director for Programs

Dr. Parag Chitnis

Dr. Parag Chitnis has been appointed to the position of Associate Director for Programs. Dr. Chitnis joined NIFA in August 2014 as the Deputy Director of the Institute of Food Production and Sustainability and has served as the Interim Associate Director for Programs since May 2020. Dr. Chitnis will continue to serve as the acting Associate Director for Operations.

Prior to joining NIFA, Dr. Chitnis worked for the National Science Foundation (NSF) where he served as Division Director, Deputy Division Director, and Program Director. Prior to joining NSF, Parag was a professor at Iowa State University and was an Assistant Professor at Kansas State University. Dr. Chitnis has a B.S. in Botany/Plant Breeding from the Konkan Agricultural University in India, a M.S. in Genetics/Biochemistry from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of California at Los Angeles. He was a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology prior to serving on the staff there as a research associate. Dr. Chitnis has been essential in standing up our operations in Kansas City as well as his leadership role in Project CAFÉ.


Drenda Williams

NIFA Welcomes New Civil Rights Director

Drenda Williams has been selected for the position of Director of the Equal Opportunity Staff and will serve as the NIFA Civil Rights Director. She joins NIFA from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) where during her tenure she was Acting State Conservationist and Assistant State Conservationist for Management and Strategy in Texas from September 2012 through May 2020. Prior to this she worked as the Branch Chief for Diversity and Recruitment, State Conservationist – Portland, State Conservationist – Missouri, State Administrative Officer, Assistant State Conservationist for Operations, and on several detail assignments to the NRCS National Office in Washington, DC.  Williams has extensive experience in civil rights, diversity and inclusion, Farm Bill programs, grants and agreements,  compliance and quality assurance, administrative and operational business processes, and scholarship and recruitment initiatives at the 1890’s, 1862’s, HSI’s, and tribal colleges.

Williams has implemented process improvement approaches to ensure the areas of compliance and quality assurance are effective and efficient for employees and partners. She received the NRCS Chief’s Diversity Award in addition to the USDA Martin Luther King Jr Drum Major for Service Award. She began her career working directly with farmers in her home county of Audrain in Northeast Missouri.

Williams received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Lincoln University in Missouri as a USDA 1890 Scholar and graduated from the George Washington University’s Leadership Program. With her diverse background in civil rights, equal employment opportunity, operations and administrative areas in addition to her agriculture background, she is excited to join the NIFA team.

News for You

Chuck Hibberd

Nebraska Extension Dean and Director Announces Retirement

Nebraska Extension Dean and Director Chuck Hibberd, a Lexington native who fostered a spirit of innovation and collaboration within the organization, will retire on June 30. Hibberd spent seven years at the helm of Nebraska Extension. Under his leadership, Nebraska Extension, housed within the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has moved toward a new way of thinking about the role of Extension, one that’s less about providing answers to questions and more about working with farmers, ranchers, community leaders and families to learn from each other and solve problems together. Read the full University of Nebraska article.

Bing cherries. Photo by Peggy Greb.

Bing Cherries: A Natural Health Remedy that Grows on Trees?

There are many amazing things in nature, and a USDA scientist in California is exploring evidence that Bing cherries contain some wonderous health possibilities. “We’re testing whether the consumption of sweet cherry juice can improve human health across several cognitive and physiological systems in the body,” said Kevin Laugero, a systems physiologist and research nutritionist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, CA. The study explores evidence that Bing cherries contain bioactive compounds that improve human health. Fresh cherries aren’t available all year, so demonstrating the effects of cherry juice would potentially circumvent limited access to the benefits of this otherwise seasonal fruit. Read the full USDA blog.

Bing cherries contain many compounds that promote human health. Photo by Peggy Greb.

Award Announcements

NIFA Invests $11.6 Million in Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduates

NIFA recently awarded 26 Research and Extension Experiences for Undergraduate grants that will offer experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students in the food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences across the nation. These hands-on educational experiences offer both research and extension training that will lead to a well-prepared and modern workforce that can fill expected gaps in the country’s food, agriculture, and related industries. These grants are part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Workforce Development

NIFA Invests $3 Million to Help Prevent and Manage Chronic Disease

NIFA recently awarded four diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases grants to develop strategies to improve eating patterns that support the prevention of chronic disease and improve food security and nutritional health outcomes through an evidence-based approach. NIFA’s support enables better food and nutrition choices and a pathway to self-sufficiency. These grants are part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Learn more about NIFA’s nutrition programs online. 

NIFA Invests $2.9 Million to Mitigate Antimicrobial Resistance

NIFA recently announced three awards in the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) “Mitigating Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) across the Food Chain” program, which is designed to generate practical science-based knowledge, tools, and strategies for combating AMR in agro-ecosystems. Among the projects funded, teams of experts aim to: 1) Apply a systematic and integrated approach to mitigate antimicrobial resistance in aquaculture: 2) Examine the environmental, human, and animal health risks from the dissemination of Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae into agricultural watersheds; and 3) Investigate the emergence and ecology antimicrobial resistance in high risk beef. Previously funded AMR projects can be found at online.

NIFA Invests $1 Million to Sustainable Biomass Rural Power Production

NIFA recently announced one award in the Sustainable Biomass Feedstock Systems grant program. This program focuses on plant and/or animal material systems for producing power and products for isolated rural communities and islands. Many of these isolated areas rely on a fragile expensive electrical power infrastructure. Many of these communities depend on the legacy power generation systems that require expensive gasoline, fuel oil, or liquefied natural gas for power. These legacy power generation and transmission systems are fragile and can be easily devastated by natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or catastrophic wildfires. Sustainable Biomass Feedstock Systems program works on identifying realistic achievable opportunities that have the potential of scalable resilient biomass power and heat production systems that also spur rural economic opportunity.

Funding Opportunity

Funding Opportunity: Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Competitive Grants Program. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Funding Opportunity: Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Competitive Grants Program. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans Competitive Grants Program (AgVets)

The Enhancing Agricultural Opportunities for Military Veterans (AgVets) Program provides grants to non-profits to increase the number of military veterans gaining knowledge and skills through comprehensive, hands-on, and immersive model, farm and ranch programs that lead to successful careers in the food and agricultural areas. AgVets encourages agricultural related training opportunities specifically designed for military veterans. Projects must offer onsite, hands-on training, and classroom education leading to a comprehensive understanding of successful farm and ranch operations and management practices. AgVets projects may also offer workforce readiness and employment prospects for service-disabled veterans. NIFA requests applications for the AgVets to provide grants to nonprofit organizations for training programs and services to establish and enhance farming and ranching opportunities for military veterans. For more information, read the AgVets Funding Opportunity

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