NIFA Update - Aug. 26, 2020

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Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                                       August 26, 2020

Making a Difference

Switchgrass, photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Switchgrass, a native grass that grows in many parts of North America, is a leading candidate for the sustainable production of plant material to create biofuel. Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Advanced Biofuels Show Promise

Biofuel and bioenergy systems are integral to scenarios for displacing fossil fuel use and producing negative emissions through carbon capture and storage. But the net greenhouse gas mitigation benefit of these systems has been controversial, due to concerns around carbon losses from changes in land use and foregone sequestration benefits from alternative land uses.

A new study led by Colorado State University – including an interdisciplinary team of plant scientists, ecologists and engineers – predicted significant climate benefits stemming from the use of advanced biofuel technologies. Accounting for all of the carbon flows in biofuel systems and comparing them to those in grasslands and forests, the team found that there are clear strategies for biofuels to have a net carbon benefit. This is one of the first studies to look at both current and future carbon-negative biofuels.

This research was funded in part by NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative program, the U.S. Department of Energy via the Center for Bioenergy Innovation, and the São Paulo Research Foundation in Brazil. For more information, read the Colorado State University article.


NIFA and NSF artificial intelligence announcement image

NIFA and NSF Establish Nationwide Network of Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the National Science Foundation announced today they are establishing seven new artificial intelligence institutes across the country to accelerate research, expand America's workforce and transform society for the future. Advancements in AI research have broad applications that can create economic, health and safety benefits across multiple industries and all levels of education.   

This national network of Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes represents the nation's most significant federal investment in AI research and workforce development to date. The $20 million investment in each of five NSF AI institutes and two NIFA AI Institutes is just the beginning, with more institute announcements anticipated in the coming years. For more information, read the NIFA press release.

Dr. Peter Motavalli

NIFA Welcomes New Division Director for Community and Education

Dr. Peter Motavalli has joined NIFA as the Director for Community and Education Division in the Institute of Youth, Family, and Community. Dr. Motavalli earned his M.S. degree in soil science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his Ph.D. in soil science from Cornell University. His research in Brazil was supported by the U.S.A.I.D.-funded TROPSOILS Program. He became a post-doctoral scholar at ICRISAT, a CGIAR Center located in India. He worked as a professor at the University of Guam for four years and then for 20 years as a professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Missouri specializing on teaching and research focused on soil fertility and plant nutrition. Dr. Motavalli has received several awards for his teaching innovation and scholarship and was the campus leader for the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning and a Faculty Fellow in the Graduate School at the University of Missouri.

USDA graphic symbol

USDA Encourages AG Producers, Residents to Prepare for Tropical Storms,Hurricanes, and Wildfires

The USDA reminds communities, farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses in the path of Tropical Storm Marco, Hurricane Laura, or dealing with the aftermath of a wildfire that USDA has programs that provide assistance in the wake of natural disasters and wildfires. USDA staff in the regional, state and county offices stand ready and are eager to help. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides support for disaster education through the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN). EDEN is a collaborative, multi-state effort with land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension Services across the country, using research-based education and resources to improve the delivery of services to citizens affected by disasters. EDEN offers a searchable database of Extension professionals, resources, member universities, disaster agency websites and education materials to help people deal with a wide range of hazards, and also provides food and agricultural defense educational resources. For more information, read the USDA press release.

NIFA flower identifier

NIFA Career Opportunities

We are hiring! Remember to check out NIFA's Career Opportunities webpage, where there is a direct link to all open positions. You can also explore NIFA jobs at the website. Current openings in Kansas City, Missouri:

Equal Opportunity Specialist, GS 13
Closing date: 8/27/2020

Financial Policy Specialist, GS 9-12
Closing date: 8/28/2020

Biological/Social Science Specialist (National Program Leader), GS 13-15
Closing date: 9/30/2020

News for You

Sorghum field outside of San Antonio Texas. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Sorghum Studied for Beer-Brewing Potential and Public Use

University of Nevada, Reno graduates Melinda Yerka and John Baggettv returned to the university to study the biochemistry of fermentation. Together, and funded by $650,000 in grants from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the pair are investigating new sorghum varieties emerging from Yerka’s breeding program, and new techniques for malting, a pre-brewing process that helps create the desired flavor and makes brewing proceed more efficiently. “Sorghum is gluten free,” said Yerka, noting that there is a demand for gluten-free beer. Last year, the Yerka Lab received a $500,000 grant from NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative that allowed the team to partner with the Texas-based sorghum production company, Richardson Seeds, to breed new varieties and examine the genetics of desired traits. Yerka and Baggett are also partnering with local farmers to test commercial-scale production methods for the sorghum in northern Nevada. For more information, read the University of Nevada article.

Sorghum field outside of San Antonio Texas. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Penn State University graphic logo

USDA-Funded Project Focused on Boosting Enrollment of Minorities in Ag Sciences

Penn State is among a group of land-grant universities embarking on a project that will support the recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities and women in food, agricultural, natural resources and human sciences. The Multi-institutional mEntoring Network for Transforming Organizational cultuRe, referred to as M.E.N.T.O.R., brings together faculty from land-grant universities and provides them with resources to develop campus-based diversity and inclusion mentoring programs. This initiative is being supported by NIFA’s Higher Education Challenge Grant program. For more information, read the Penn State article.

Award Announcements

NIFA Invests $960,000 to Support Genome to Phenome Research Across Crop and Livestock Communities

NIFA recently awarded a grant as part of NIFA’s Agriculture Genome to Phenome Initiative. This program focuses on collaborative science engagement to develop a community of researchers across crops and animals that will lay the foundation for expanding knowledge about genomes and phenomes of importance to the U.S. agriculture sector. This award will catalyze and coordinate research linking genomics and predictive phenomics to achieve advances that generate societal and environmental benefits. The funded project will assemble and prepare a transdisciplinary community to conduct genome to phenome research.

NIFA Awards Over $4.6 Million to Regional Aquaculture Centers

NIFA recently announced five awards for the Regional Aquaculture Centers. The mission of the Regional Aquaculture Centers is to support aquaculture research, development, demonstration, and extension education to enhance viable and profitable U.S. aquaculture which will benefit consumers, producers, service industries, and the American economy. These include regional centers based at the University of Hawaii, University of Washington, University of Maryland, Iowa State, and Mississippi State.   

Funding Opportunity

Funding Opportunity - SBIR phase I - Image of woman in lab coat examining plant leaves courtesy of Getty Images.

Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Small Business Innovation Research Program - Phase I

The USDA SBIR program focuses on transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial potential and/or societal benefit. Unlike fundamental research, the USDA SBIR program supports small businesses in the creation of innovative, disruptive technologies, and enables the application of research advancements from conception into the market. Projects dealing with agriculturally related manufacturing and alternative and renewable energy technologies are encouraged across all SBIR topic areas. USDA SBIR's flexible research areas ensure innovative projects consistent with USDA's vision of a healthy and productive nation in harmony with the land, air, and water. For more information, read the SBIR Phase I funding opportunity.

Tweet of the Week

Amanda De La Torre at Northern Arizona University is fighting white pine blister rust disease.