NIFA Update - July 21, 2021

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Editor: Kelly Sprute                                                                                          July 21, 2021

Making a Difference

Kelp, courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Kelp, courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Kelp for Corn? Illinois Scientists Demystify Natural Products for Crops

Corn growers can choose from a wide array of products to make the most of their crop, but the latest could bring seaweed extract to a field near you. The marine product is just one class in a growing market of crop biostimulants marketed for corn.

Biostimulants benefit crops and soil, but there’s huge confusion over what these products do, and when and how they should be used. To quell the confusion, University of Illinois researcher Fred Below, along with doctoral student Connor Sible and research specialist Juliann Seebauer, categorized available biostimulant products into eight classes based on their modes of action. Their review includes summaries of product composition, mechanisms, efficacy, and application considerations.

Generally, plant biostimulants enhance natural processes in plants or soil that, in turn, boost crop quality and yield through enhanced nutrient uptake, nutrient efficiency, or stress tolerance. “We’re actively researching these products to help growers understand what they are and how they work, so they can select the right one for their production system,” said Sible. Partial funding for this work was provided by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. For more information, read this University of Illinois ACES news article.


Farmer's hand watering a young plant, courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Prioritizing Nutrition Security: NIFA's Role in Cultivating Future Farmers and Ranchers

Learn about NIFA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) in an upcoming webinar on Wednesday, July 28 from 2 - 3 p.m. EST. The virtual session will be led by program experts and grant awardees as they share their knowledge and personal experiences with the BFRDP program. Attendees are highly encouraged to ask questions during the live question and answer segment. Register online for this webinar. This event is the second installment of NIFA’s new monthly Nutrition Security Webinar Series. The series is set to feature a broad range of topics and speakers focused on prioritizing nutrition security during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Farmer's hand watering a young plant, courtesy of Adobe Stock.

USDA's graphic symbol

Racial Justice and Equity Listening Sessions

These listening sessions will help USDA’s efforts in advancing racial justice and equity. Each speaker will have five minutes to make remarks. Your time slot will be determined on a first-come, first-served basis for when you registered for the listening sessions. A list of the speaking order will be sent to participants in advance. USDA’s Racial Equity Commission will use this information to address systemic inequities and increase participation in USDA programs, services, committees, and decision-making processes.

Register for a session:

July 28: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (ET) 

July 29: 7 to 9 p.m. (ET)

Guiding Questions:

  1. If you have interacted with any agency at USDA, please describe that experience.
  2. How can USDA remove or reduce barriers that underserved communities and individuals face?
  3. What can USDA do to actively increase participation and engagement with underserved communities? 

Other ways to comment:
Review Federal Register Notice and submit comments by typing directly into the comment section or attaching your comments as a document (no longer than 20 pages). You can also send an email with your comments to by August 14.

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:

National Program Leader (GS-15)
Closing Date: 07/26/2021

Biological/Social Science Specialist (National Science Liaison) (GS-15)
Closing Date: 07/28/2021

Supervisory Grants Management Specialist (GS-15)
Closing Date: 07/28/2021

Supervisory Social Science Specialist (GS-15)
Closing Date: 07/29/2021

Supervisory Social Science Specialist (GS-15)
Closing Date: 07/29/2021

News for You

Beech bark disease, courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.

Scientists Unravel More Mysteries About Beech Bark Disease

More than half of New Hampshire’s deciduous and mixed forest land is dominated by maple, birch, and beech trees, which contribute to the economic resiliency of New Hampshire communities and help sustain many wildlife species. Beech bark disease has continued to ravage the iconic American beech tree for more than a century. With a changing and uncertain climate, there is a greater urgency to understand how the disease functions within its current and potential future environments. University of New Hampshire (UNH) Agricultural Experiment Station researchers are unlocking the major mysteries about beech bark disease, and how fungi and insects interact with host trees and with one another to cause the disease. Using genetic sequencing and statistical modelling, researchers are closer to understanding the key interactions which determine the character and severity of the disease. This material is based on work supported by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, through joint funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the state of New Hampshire. For more information, read the UNH Today article.

Beech bark disease, courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.

SARE graphic logo

Bulletin Highlights Best Practices for Adult Learning

Studies show that farmers learn best through in-person, face-to-face educational programs. But learning opportunities often miss the mark due to content choice, disorganization, or lack of understanding of participants’ learning styles. Educators who use best adult learning practices have a greater effect on participants’ learning and retention and empower farmers to make sustainable changes to their operations. Download the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education’s (SARE) newest free bulletin, Sustainable Agriculture Through Sustainable Learning. This material is distributed by SARE Outreach for the SARE Program and based on work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Pigs grazing on green grass, courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Improving Pig Muscle Growth, Implications for Sustainability and Health

The University of Maryland (UMD) received funding from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to enhance the overall quality and efficiency of pork production through improved muscle growth in pigs. The U.S. is the world’s third-largest pork producer. In this $20 billion industry, increased and faster muscle growth means a healthier animal, less feed and waste to raise that animal, and ultimately a more competitive and sustainable pork industry. In partnership with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the U.S. Department of Defense, this work could also have future applications beyond just the pork industry to optimize human performance and treat wounded service members. For more information, read this UMD article.

Pigs grazing on green grass, courtesy of Adobe Stock.


AgrAbility graphic logo.

Veterans Harvest: A Virtual Conference for Veterans in Agriculture

The National AgrAbility Project is pleased to present Veterans Harvest: A Virtual Conference for Veterans in Agriculture. Five consecutive Tuesdays beginning July 27, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. (ET).

All sessions are free. Those already registered for the 2021 AgrAbility National Training Workshop Virtual Sessions are automatically registered for the veterans’ conference. Register by Thursday, July 22. Instructions for accessing the session will be sent to registrants by July 26. Register online.

Current agenda includes the following sessions:

  • July 27: "Conference Introduction" by Cindy Chastain, National AgrAbility Project, and Jeanette Lombardo, Farmer Veteran Coalition, plus “One Veteran's Journey from PTSD to Farmer” by Sarah Creech, Blue Yonder Organic Farm and Indiana Farmer Veteran Coalition
  • August 3: “Celebrating Veteran Total Farmer Health” by Linda Emanuel and Shay Foulk, AgriSafe Network
  • August 10: “Programming for Veterans in Agriculture: How Maine Does It" by Anne Devin, veteran outreach specialist with Maine AgrAbility
  • August 17: “Update on USDA's support for Veterans” by Bill Ashton, USDA Military Veterans Agricultural Liaison
  • August 24: “Panel Presentation on State/Regional Programs for Farmer Veterans” moderated by Cindy Chastain, National AgrAbility Project

Award Announcements

The University of Tennessee - Martin Hall, courtesy of UT.

NIFA Invests Over $7M to Support Research Innovations and Workforce Development at Agricultural Colleges

NIFA announced today an investment of over $7 million in research grants to U.S. Non-Land-grant Colleges of Agriculture (NLGCA). These grants aim to increase research, education, and outreach capacity at Non-Land-grant Institutions to support development of the innovations and workforce needed to sustain the agriculture industry in the future.

“The National Institute of Food and Agriculture awards research, education and extension grants to solve the grand challenges before us,” said NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille. “These efforts will help improve rural economies, increase food production and agricultural profitability and sustainability, address climate change and related issues, ensure food and nutrition security and train the next generation of the agricultural workforce.”  For more information, read the NIFA press release.

The University of Tennessee - Martin, received a grant for a forage nutrition lab to build capacity for forage and animal science. Photo courtesy of University of Tennessee.

Award Notification

NIFA Invests $18 Million to Educate and Develop Agricultural Scientists and Professionals

NIFA recently awarded 117 Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowship grants that support graduate and post-graduate education in agricultural related disciplines. These fellowships will develop new scientists and professionals to enter research, education, and extension fields within the food and agricultural sciences. The aim of these grants is to cultivate future industry, government, or academic leaders who can solve emerging agricultural challenges of the 21st century. These grants are a part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Education and Workforce Development program.

NIFA Awards $5.5 Million for Agricultural Engineering

NIFA recently awarded 16 agricultural engineering research grants to advance precision and smart technologies. Research programs will focus on better water and fertilizer use, production energy efficiency, targeted pest management, engineering technologies that promote animal health, and reduce labor costs. New technology in agricultural production systems spur innovation in rural America and contribute to overall rural prosperity. These grants are part of NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.


Avery Williamson and Joyona Helsel, courtesy of 4-H.

4-H Helped to Shape his Life and Work Ethic. Now He’s Giving Back to the Next Generation

Were it not for the foundation that 4-H provided to Avery Williamson as a youth, the NFL linebacker might not have found his way back to the family farm in Tennessee as an adult. Williamson’s dad spent a lot of time as a truck driver, which led the future pro football player to run their small cattle operation by himself much of the time, including before and after school while his friends were off having fun. His time in 4-H, coupled with the responsibility on the farm, shaped his work ethic. For more information, watch the 4-H video. For more about Avery Williamson, read the AgDaily article.

Avery Williamson and Joyona Helsel, courtesy of 4-H.

Tweet of the Week

A Clemson University researcher is working to determine how to develop new wheat lines that can withstand environmental changes.