NIFA Update - November 25, 2020

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Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                               November 25, 2020

Making a Difference

A cross-section of a declining ironwood tree. Image courtesy of University of Guam

A cross-section of a declining ironwood tree in Guam.

Researchers Work to Stop Ironwood Tree Decline in Guam

With U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants totaling almost $370,000, researchers from the University of Guam and other institutions are in the process of analyzing termites to assess their role in infecting what is now more than 20 percent of Guam’s ironwood trees with a deadly bacterium.

More than 18 years ago, the ironwood tree, a hearty, salt-resistant species important for soil erosion control and a protector of vegetation from the wind, unexpectedly began dying off in Guam. This condition is now referred to as “ironwood tree decline.” It took another six years to find its main culprit: the bacterial wilt pathogen known as Ralstonia solanacearum

Since then, under a longstanding effort funded by various USDA sources — the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, NIFA’s McIntire-Stennis Capacity Grant, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Renewable Resources Extension Act Capacity Grant — University of Guam researchers have been monitoring and surveying the trees to better understand and stop bacterial attacks, planting new trees selectively bred to be resistant to the bacterium and, more recently, pinpointing how termites might spread the wilt bacterium. For more information, read the University of Guam article.

A cross-section of a declining ironwood tree in Guam shows drops of whitish ooze caused by the bacterial wilt pathogen and a ring of dark stained tissue caused by wetwood bacteria. Image courtesy of University of Guam.

From the Director

Parag Chitnis, Acting NIFA Director

Dear Colleagues:

Thanksgiving is a time of reflection and gratitude. As I reflect on this year, I feel honored to be able to work with talented colleagues who are dedicated and enthusiastic about NIFA’s mission. I am thankful for the ones that stayed with NIFA to ensure its success during relocation. I am equally thankful for those who joined NIFA and brought new ideas for accomplishing NIFA’s mission and serve our stakeholders more efficiently than ever. Together, NIFA’s growing team represents and cherishes diversity, creativity, and drive for innovating processes and catalyzing new science frontiers. Together, we strive to serve our stakeholders better.

We respect and trust each other, building a strong team spirit. Because of our exceptional teamwork across the agency, all of us rolled back our sleeves and got the job done in FY20. By doing so, we better served you - our stakeholders -  who are solving current agricultural challenges, exploring opportunities for the future of food and agricultural enterprise, and training tomorrow’s agricultural workforce. When the pandemic hit our country and we saw the emergent needs of our stakeholders, we responded with speed and agility to provide funding strategically. This  year has taught us to support each other every day and value our strong partnership.

I am also thankful for a terrific leadership team at NIFA. They are motivated, enthusiastic about positive changes at NIFA, and think of the entire NIFA. They are dedicated to helping our stakeholder community, as we apply your input and feedback to improve the agency’s programs and services. Together, we thank you -  our stakeholders – for being incredibly supportive of NIFA and our work.

Have a happy Thanksgiving holiday. And when you have your Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, please remember our collective work and investments played a role in putting that delicious meal on the table.


Acting Director
National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA
Washington DC – Kansas City MO


NIFA Funds Tribal Programs to Support Learning, Health & Opportunity.  Native American woman and girl sitting on the lawn; courtesy of Getty Images.

NIFA Funds Tribal Programs to Support Learning, Health, and Opportunity

NIFA funds programs that promote learning, opportunities and health in Tribal communities. The total amount NIFA invested in all Tribal programs in FY 2020 was approximately $28 million. Tribal land-grant colleges and universities infuse components of Native American culture in their teaching curriculum. For example, an environmental biology class may be combined with studies of Navajo names of plant species. Through Tribal research grants, tribal colleges partner with other land-grant universities to address issues of interest to local Native American communities, such as preserving tribal forests or protecting water quality on reservations. Tribal college extension services reach out to Native American ranchers and farmers to improve farm profitability. They also provide vital health, safety and economic development information to tribal communities. The Tribal Colleges also receive an endowment that supports facilities and other critical needs at these schools. For more information, read the NIFA blog.

Native American woman and girl sitting on the lawn; courtesy of Getty Images.

Female hand holding tree plant; courtesy of Getty Images.

NIFA Awards Over $16M for Small Business Innovation Research Program

NIFA recently awarded over $16 million in FY 2020 grants for 29 projects in the Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), Phase II. The SBIR program focuses on transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial potential and/or societal benefit.

“Our SBIR program supports small businesses that are working to create innovative, disruptive technologies and helps move research advancements from conception into the market,” said NIFA Acting Director Parag Chitnis. “Since 1983, this program has funded over 2,000 research and development projects, allowing hundreds of small businesses to explore their technological potential, and providing an incentive for the commercialization of innovative ideas.” For more information, read the NIFA press release.

Graphic courtesy of Getty Images.

USDA graphic symbol

USDA Opens Registration for the 2021 Agricultural Outlook Forum

The 2021 Forum will be Virtual and Registration is Free

Registration is now open for the 97th annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, USDA's largest annual meeting and premiere event. The two-day Forum will take place on Feb. 18-19, 2021. Due to current restrictions on large gatherings in the Washington, D.C. area, USDA will hold the 2021 Forum virtually for the first time, and registration will be free for this event. The 2021 Forum, themed “Building on Innovation: A Pathway to Resilience,” builds on USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda launched earlier this year to align USDA’s resources, programs and research toward the goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40 percent while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050. The Forum will feature a panel of distinguished guest speakers and 30 break-out sessions developed by agencies across USDA. For more information, read the USDA 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:

Public Affairs Specialist (Digital Media), GS 9-11
Closing date: 11/25/2020

Staff Accountant, GS 9-11
Closing Date: 12/04/2020

News for You

Image courtesy of Montana State University.

MSU to Partner with Blackfeet Community College to Improve Access for Native Students

Montana State University’s (MSU) College of Agriculture  has partnered with Blackfeet Community College to receive a grant from USDA to facilitate greater opportunities and new programs for Native American students. The $339,000 in funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Tribal Programs grant will support a two-year pilot program between the two colleges, with Blackfeet Community College receiving the main award and MSU receiving a sub-award. One of the project’s MSU-based faculty, Kristin Ruppel of the Department of Native American Studies in the College of Letters and Science, points to this project as a model of the type advocated by the Indigenous Research Initiative at MSU, itself an Indigenous-led research and data governance project. For more information, read the MSU news article.

Image courtesy of Montana State University.

Michelle Danyluk in her lab. Photo courtesy of the University of Florida.

Safe Food Production Training to be Available to Florida’s Small and Beginning Farmers

A new opportunity for Florida’s small and medium-sized produce farmers will become a reality with the support of a USDA grant designed to provide easy-to-access training in safe food production methods to underserved farmers. Faculty from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and Florida A&M are partnering to serve this audience with online programming designed to help them become more competitive in the marketplace. The $319,273 grant is part of USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Food Safety Outreach Program for food safety education, training, and technical assistance projects that address the needs of owners and operators of small to mid-sized farms, beginning farmers, socially-disadvantaged farmers, small processors, fresh fruit and vegetable merchant wholesalers, food hubs, farmers’ markets, and others. For more information, read the UF/IFAS blog.

Michelle Danyluk in her lab at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Florida. Photo courtesy of the University of Florida.

Award Announcements

NIFA Invests $5 Million to Mitigate Antimicrobial Resistance

NIFA recently announced six 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: apply a systematic and integrated approach to mitigate antimicrobial resistance in aquaculture; examine the environmental, human, and animal health risks from the dissemination of Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae into agricultural watersheds; and investigate the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in high-risk beef.

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