NIFA Update - Nov. 4, 2020

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Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                                    November 4, 2020

Making a Difference

Rongzhong Ye and Charles Parker, study soil samples. Image courtesy of Clemson.

Clemson Researcher Studies Organic Agriculture Soil Challenges  

The organic industry is the fastest growing agricultural segment in the United States, but low soil organic carbon, meager soil fertility and poor soil structure are keeping South Carolina farmers from reaping the benefits of this market. To help South Carolina farmers overcome these challenges and grow organic vegetables, Clemson University’s assistant professor Rongzhong Ye has received a $500,000 grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for a three-year study on improving soils to support organic vegetable production.

During this study, Ye and his team will strive to better understand how organic inputs and tillage affect soil biogeochemical processes essential for supporting soil health. The researchers will study soil microbial communities, carbon dynamics, nutrient processes and changes of soil health, as well as yields and nutritional quality of organic vegetables.

In addition to Clemson researchers, this project also involves researchers from the Rodale Institute Southeast Organic Center. This collaboration addresses priorities of the NIFA’s Organic Transitions Program which include understanding the effects of using organic practices such as organic manure, mulch, and/or compost additions, as well as using cover crops and reduced or conservation tillage on soil health and fertility. For more information, read the Clemson Newsstand article.

Rongzhong Ye and Charles Parker, study soil samples. Image courtesy of Clemson.

From the Director

Parag Chitnis, Acting NIFA Director

We are now one month into the new Fiscal Year and we are continuing to move at a rapid pace to address the needs and concerns of our stakeholders. Over the past few weeks, you have seen many funding opportunities announced in accordance with our new RFA Calendar. We hope you are finding this to be a helpful planning tool.

While we are reviewing your feedback from Project Café and assigning teams to address the major issues you helped us identify, we are reestablishing our liaisons with the Land-grant University System organizations and boards to facilitate a more consistent flow of information. Here is the updated list of NIFA liaisons to APLU-affiliated organizations for the coming year:

Board on Agriculture Assembly and Administrative Heads Section: Parag R Chitnis
Academic Programs Section: Suresh Sureshawaran
Cooperative Extension Section: Mike Fitzner
Experiment Station Section: Tim Conner
International Agriculture Section: Amrit Bart

1890 region: Peter Motavalli
North-central region: Deb Hamernik
Northeastern region: Mark Carter
Southern region: Kevin Kephart
Western region: Suzanne Stluka

Board on Human Sciences: Brent Elrod
Board on Forestry: Eric Norland
Board on Veterinary Sciences: Deb Hamernik
NARRU: Peter Motavalli

As we hire and train new staff, we will continue to expand out liaison activities, including the state liaison program, and update you about new assignments. The feedback you have provided us over the past year has been invaluable as we build a new and stronger agency to better serve stakeholder needs. Your continued feedback on our progress is encouraged and welcomed. Remember, you can continuously track our progress at the Project Café dashboard site.


USDA Student Summer Internship Job Opportunities

USDA announces the opening of the FY21 OneUSDA Summer Pathways Student Internship Job Opportunity. Pathways Student interns have been an excellent source of talent helping advance USDA’s mission. This is an exciting opportunity for students. The intern announcements will close on Nov. 16, 2020.  For more information, search the job opportunity announcements below:

Position Title, Series, Grade

Announcement Number


Student Trainee (Administration & Office Support), GS-0399-2/3/4/5


Student Trainee (Science), GS-0499-2/3/4/5/7


Student Trainee (Financial Management), GS-0599-2/3/4/5


Student Trainee (Veterinary), GS-0799-2/3/4/5/7/9


Student Trainee (Engineering & Architecture), GS-0899-2/3/4/5


Student Trainee (Business & Industry), GS-1199-2/3/4/5


Student Trainee (Information Technology), GS-2299-2/3/4/5



USDA Message

The top 10 states in organic sales from the 2019 organic survey results. Graphic courtesy of USDA-NASS.

Organic: A Thriving Agriculture Segment

Have you noticed, while in your local grocery store, that you have been seeing more organic products? This growing segment of agriculture is more prevalent now than it was just a decade ago and we have the data to show it.

First, it is important to note that organic is not just a label. Producers must adhere to strictly regulated processes and be vetted by USDA-accredited certifiers in order to receive the organic designation. The USDA certified organic label gives farmers a strong marketing tool and offers consumers assurances that these products meet standards. For more information, read the USDA blog.

Graphic courtesy of USDA-NASS.

News for You

Disaster Recovery Plan photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Advancing Disaster Education Initiatives in Rural America

EDEN’s Request for Proposals

The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) Development Grants Program invests in the development of innovative educational resources and Extension initiatives that address and advance the preparation for, response to, and recovery from hazards and disasters. The program focuses on a wide array of topics and issues. Applications may be submitted by Extension professionals employed by land-grant or sea-grant universities. At least one individual on the project must be an EDEN delegate. For more information, read the EDEN Request for Proposals.

SARE Bulletin Addresses Ecological Approach to Managing Pests cover image

New SARE Bulletin Addresses Ecological Approach to Managing Pests

Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s (SARE) newly revised “A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests” bulletin discusses ecological approaches to pest management and highlights cases in which farmers are using innovative methods to manage pests. A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests, useful for farmers and educators alike, describes ecological pest management strategies that focus on strengthening natural relationships throughout the farm to reduce pest pressures. A Whole-Farm Approach to Managing Pests is available for free in print and download. For more information, read the SARE article.

Nanotechnology cell graphic courtesy of Getty Images.

National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Planning Request for Information

The Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology (NSET) Subcommittee is seeking public input to inform the development of the 2021 National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) Strategic Plan. A restructuring of the NNI is under consideration, and the NSET Subcommittee seeks feedback from the community to help identify effective mechanisms, strategies for communication, and priority topics to shape the future directions for the initiative. Responses are requested by Nov. 9, at 11:59 pm ET. For more information, read the NSET Request for Information.

Graphic courtesy of Getty Images.

Award Announcements

NIFA Invests $32 Million to Encourage Low-Income Families to Buy Healthy Food

NIFA announced 30 Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) grants to support projects to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by providing incentives at the point of purchase. GusNIP is a joint program between NIFA and USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees SNAP and is responsible for evaluating the impact of the variety of types of incentive programs being deployed by GusNIP grantees. These grantees represent a variety of peer-reviewed projects, including small pilot projects, regular projects, large-scale projects, produce prescription projects, and one training, technical assistance, evaluation, and information center project. GusNIP brings together stakeholders from different parts of the national food system to improve the nutrition and health status of SNAP households.

Funding Opportunity

Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative

Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative funding opportunity. Image of cauliflower plants in a basket; courtesy of Getty Images.

Image of cauliflower plants in a basket; courtesy of Getty Images.

The Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) seeks to solve critical organic agriculture issues, priorities, or problems through the integration of research, education, and extension activities. OREI funds projects that will enhance the ability of producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards to grow and market high quality organic agricultural products. Priority concerns include biological, physical, and social sciences, including economics. For more information, read the OREI funding opportunity.

Tweet of the Week

NIFA tweets - Through a Missouri AgrAbility Project, University of Missouri has launched Heroes to Hives program.