NIFA Update - Feb. 17, 2021

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.

NIFA Update Banner

Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                                    February 17, 2021

Making a Difference

Farmer harvesting peanuts. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Farmer harvesting peanuts. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Researchers Discover Biomarkers Needed to Help Peanuts Beat the Heat

Heat stress caused by climate change is threatening to reduce peanut crop yields. A group of researchers led by Clemson University Plant and Environmental Sciences Assistant Professor Sruthi Narayanan is working to develop heat-tolerant peanut varieties they hope will help maintain peanut production and profitability.

Peanuts are grown on about 42 million acres worldwide. They require temperatures of at least 56 degrees, with 86 degrees the optimal growing temperature. Higher temperatures can hurt yields. The Earth’s average yearly temperature has increased 2 degrees since the pre-industrial era of 1880-1900. This extra heat is driving up regional and seasonal temperatures.

“Reduced pollen production and viability are the major reasons for loss of peanut yields when heat stress occurs during the flowering stage,” said Zolian Zoong Lwe, who conducted the study under Narayanan’s guidance and is now a doctoral student at Kansas State University. “Understanding the mechanisms underlying the decrease in peanut pollen performance during heat stress will help develop tolerant peanut varieties.”

This study is funded by the National Peanut Board, the South Carolina Peanut Board, and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information, read the Clemson news article.

NIFA Webinars

Webinar graphic courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Funding Opportunities for New Investigators in the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative

NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is the nation’s leading competitive grants program for the food and agricultural sciences. Within AFRI there are specific opportunities for early career professionals that meet our eligibility criteria for New Investigators.

NIFA is conducting a webinar series March 1-4, 2021 to provide an overview of opportunities for AFRI New Investigators and discuss program areas covered under Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions. Registration is required for each webinar.

We invite New Investigators and staff to use the following schedule to register for sessions that are of interest:

  • AFRI New Investigator Overview
  • AFRI’s Food Safety, Nutrition and Health Program Area
  • AFRI’s Agriculture Economics and Rural Communities Program Area
  • AFRI’s Animal Health and Production and Animal Products Program Area
  • AFRI’s Education and Workforce Development Program Area
  • AFRI’s Agriculture Systems and Technology Program Area
  • AFRI’s Plant Health and Production and Plant Products Program Area
  • AFRI’s Bioenergy, Natural Resources, and Environment Program Area

Prior to the webinar series, we suggest that you look at the AFRI Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement Grants for New Investigators FAQs for some basic information about these opportunities. For more information, read the AFRI webinar announcement.

Webinar graphic courtesy of Adobe Stock.


Helpful Hints for AFRI New Investigators

Do you have questions about how to apply for a grant as a New Investigator? This handy guide provides answers. New Investigator grant opportunities are offered in the AFRI Foundational and Applied Science Request for Applications. This RFA covers two grant review cycles, one with 2021 deadlines and one with 2022 deadlines. Applications received under the 2021 deadlines receive funding from FY 2021 and FY 2022 budgets will be used. For the 2022 review cycle, funding from FY 2022 and FY 2023 budgets.

New Investigator Grants

An individual beginning a career, who does not have an extensive scientific publication record, and has less than five years postgraduate career-track experience, is encouraged to submit as a New Investigator for research, education, and/or extension activities. New Investigator grant opportunities are described below.

The new investigator may not have received competitively awarded Federal research funds as Project Director, except for pre- or postdoctoral grants and AFRI Seed Grants. However, Federal funding an applicant received as Co-PD of previously awarded competitive grants does not count against New Investigator eligibility.

Starting in FY 2021, there are two types of New Investigator Grants available:

  • The first is a Standard Grant (i.e., New Investigator Standard Grant), which is a Standard Grant application in all respects, except that the Project Director (PD) meets the eligibility criteria described previously for New Investigators. These are reviewed with all other Standard Grant applications submitted to the respective program area priority, with special consideration given by NIFA program staff to funding of New Investigator Standard Grant applications that fall below the funding line. In these cases, the New Investigator box must be checked under FASE on the AFRI Project Type form.
  • Individuals qualifying as New Investigators are also eligible to apply for a Seed Grant (i.e., New Investigator Seed Grants described subsequently) regardless of institutional affiliation and eligibility for Strengthening Grants.
  • An individual applicant may submit only one Seed Grant as PD during the current fiscal year.
  • New Investigators also may only receive one New Investigator Seed Grant as PD during their career.
  • New Investigator Seed Grant applications will be reviewed with other Seed Grant applications submitted to the respective program area priority with special consideration given to funding of New Investigator Seed Grant applications.
  • In these cases, both the New Investigator and Seed Grant boxes should be checked under FASE on the AFRI Project Type form.
  • More information about seed grants is located on the AFRI RFA Resources page under AFRI Grant Types in the attachments list.

For either type of New Investigator Grant, eligibility requirements for a New Investigator apply only to the PD and not to Co-PDs or collaborators.

The application must contain all prior and current federal support within your Biosketch and Current & Pending form. The work proposed for New Investigator Grants must address a specific Program Area Priority from the description in Part I, C of the RFA, which begins on Page 9. Please note that the Critical Agricultural Research and Extension (A1701) Program Area Priority does not accept Seed Grant applications but does accept Standard Grant applications; the other Program Area Priorities accept both types.

New Investigator Grant applications do not need to adhere to the eligibility requirements described for Strengthening Grants unless they are applying under both grant types.

If you still have questions, please consult the AFRI Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) Grants for New Investigators Frequently Asked Questions or email

Drip irrigation photo courtesy of Getty Images.

USDA Invests in Data for Agricultural Irrigation Improvements

Every farmer needs adequate water for their crops. In some U.S. regions, farmers must rely on irrigation to have enough water for their crops. The 2017 Census of Agriculture reports farms with some form of irrigation accounted for 54 percent of the total value of crop sales. With water being such a vital resource for the U.S. agricultural sector, understanding water management, and supply organizations is key to helping policymakers make decisions to support irrigated crop production. The Economic Research Service and the National Agricultural Statistics Service jointly developed and conducted the 2019 Survey of Irrigation Organizations. For more information, read the USDA blog.

Drip irrigation photo courtesy of Getty Images.

USDA graphic symbol

USDA Ready to Assist Farmers, Ranchers, and Communities Affected by Winter Storms

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reminds rural communities, farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses affected by the recent winter storms that USDA has programs that provide assistance. USDA staff in regional, state and county offices are prepared with a variety of program flexibilities and other assistance to residents, agricultural producers, and impacted communities. For more information, read the USDA press release.

News for You

Florida State University's Qinchun Rao

Professor Receives USDA Grants to Help Develop Food Safety Tests

A Florida State University (FSU) researcher has received two grants from the USDA to develop tests that will uncover adulterated or contaminated foods. “These projects will protect against contamination of the food supply that may cause wide-scale public health harm,” said FSU’s Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Science Associate Professor Qinchun Rao. “They’ll also help ensure that consumers get the products they think they are paying for.” Rao will develop an easy-to-use test that can detect whether a food contains shellfish, a potentially fatal allergen for some people. Funded by a USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant. For more information, read the FSU news article.

Invasive spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) on a raspberry. Photo courtesy of Hannah Burrack.

Invasive Flies Prefer Untouched Territory When Laying Eggs  

A recent study finds that the invasive spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii) prefers to lay its eggs in places that no other spotted wing flies have visited. The finding raises questions about how the flies can tell whether a piece of fruit is virgin territory and what that might mean for pest control. The pest species prefers to lay its eggs in ripe fruit, which poses problems for fruit growers, since consumers don't want to buy infested fruit. "Ultimately, we're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in potential crop losses and increases in pest-management costs each year in the United States," says North Carolina State University Professor and co-author of a paper on the study Hannah Burrack. "These costs have driven some small growers out of business. "The first step toward addressing an invasive pest species is understanding it. This work is supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information, read the NC State news article.

Invasive spotted wing drosophila. Photo courtesy of NC State, Hannah Burrack.

Simulated virtual greenhouse graphic courtesy of Mississippi State University.

Virtual Reality Initiative to Help Future Growers  

Learning how to maneuver the high-risk aspects of the agriculture industry is taking on a new meaning for Mississippi State University (MSU) students through 3-D virtual reality and the university’s Future Growers Technology Initiative. A one-of-a-kind simulated greenhouse, nearing completion and developed through the initiative’s cross-college collaboration efforts, not only will give future farmers a safer state-of-the-art tool, but will redefine the time it takes to analyze crop production. The project is a partnership of MSU’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Ag and Life Sciences and the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. This project is funded through USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools initiative. Principal Investigator Amelia Fox, clinical professor in plant and soil sciences, says that unlike any conventional greenhouse on campus, this controlled condition system in 3-D will give students complete access to helm the environmental controls. For more information, read the MSU article

Simulated virtual greenhouse graphic courtesy of Mississippi State University.

Military Family Learning Network disaster preparedness graphic

Military Family Readiness Academy Offers Free Community Resilience and Recovery Workshops

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned everyone’s world upside down, and we’re all searching for a way to return to what was, a year ago, normal. But we quickly have realized that this is something that none of us can do alone, especially as we serve military families. The 2021 Military Family Readiness Academy series Disaster and Hazard Readiness in Action targets skills, contexts, and situations military family service providers need as they manage disasters and emergencies within their professional fields. The Academy engages military family service providers and Cooperative Extension educators to consider how COVID-19 has disrupted our communities, what has emerged, and what has been revealed by recognizing gifts, fostering connections, and telling stories.

This dialogue-based learning experience will bring colleagues from around the world to discuss, learn, and grow from our collective pandemic experiences. Registration is limited, so choose one of the following dates/times for a workshop to attend: February 23, 2021, 12 to 2 p.m. ET or March 2, 2021, 2 - 4 p.m. ET

For more detailed information and to register for one of the workshops go to Military Families Learning Network.

Farmer with tablet checking his irrigation system. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Smart Water Use on Your Farm or Ranch

As producers throughout the nation grow increasingly concerned about water scarcity, farmers, ranchers, and agricultural educators are beginning to explore new, conservation-oriented approaches to water use. They are managing soil to improve infiltration, selecting drought-tolerant crops and native forages, and designing innovative runoff collection systems. “Smart Water Use on Your Farm or Ranch” spotlights innovative, Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) funded research into a range of conservation options. For more information, read the SARE article.

Farmer with tablet checking his irrigation system. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Tweet of the Week

NIFA tweets-Building on Dr. Marie M. Daly’s research, NIFA invests in programs like the Expanded Food & Nutrition Education Program