Through grants offered by NIFA, the USDA enables researchers throughout the United States to solve problems critical to our farmers, consumers, and communities. NIFA is the USDA's major extramural research agency, funding individuals: institutions: and public, private, and non-profit organizations.
Research Emphasis Areas
NIFA-funded research spans problems and issues encompassed within 13 national emphasis areas
Each of these national emphasis areas includes one or more NIFA programs, each a compendium of related NIFA research, education, and extension activities.
Types of Research
NIFA-funded research may be basic or applied. Basic research discovers the underlying processes and systems that make a plant, animal, ecosystem, food system, community, or marketplace work. For example, basic research might seek to discover the genetic map of a plant or animal, or show how economic and human resources affect economic growth in rural areas.
Applied research expands on basic research findings to uncover practical ways in which new knowledge can be advanced to benefit individuals and society. Here, researchers might use a genetic map to develop gene therapies to treat human diseases or develop new programs to enhance community capital and stability in rural communities.
NIFA-sponsored research may involve traditional, self-contained laboratory or field projects, or a combination of a traditional research project with education and extension activities. Such a so-called integrated project might have as a goal the reduction of diabetes in children through a community-based program that includes research, extension, and education components. Integrated projects are expected to generate new knowledge and/or apply existing knowledge quickly through the dissemination of information on specific issues where results may be visible in the short term.
Who Does the Research
NIFA funds researchers at land-grant institutions, at other institutions of higher learning, in federal agencies, or in the private sector.
NIFA has a unique relationship with the nation's land-grant universities and colleges, most of which came into being in the 1860s through federal land grants aimed at promoting agricultural research and education. Today, more than 100 land-grant institutions are scattered throughout the United States and its territories.
Much NIFA-sponsored research within the land-grant system is carried out by individual researchers. But because several states or regions may share climate, soil, market outlets, and other conditions, much research is also carried out by teams from several universities or other institutions through multistate research groups. These groups provide cooperative, coordinated attacks on problems of regional and national interest and may include specialists from several land-grant institutions, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and one or more of the agricultural experiment stations located in every state. A NIFA staffer sits on each of the several hundred multistate research groups.
Research and integrated research-education-extension funding opportunities are initiated by Congressional legislation, with the level of funding then determined by Congressional appropriations passed into law.
NIFA informs Congress of emerging research trends and needs, for example through the publication of white papers and other documents and reports. NIFA provides feedback to Congress on the impact of funded research upon request and publishes information throughout this Web site on results and impacts of completed and ongoing research.
Once the legislation is passed, NIFA's scientific staff translates the legislation into a comprehensive, high-priority research or integrated program. National program leaders from across NIFA work together in teams to share insights they gain from stakeholder input and from their individual pursuit of knowledge and information. This ensures the broadest perspective in developing or enhancing a NIFA research or integrated program that is focused on national priorities that are in line with the Congressional mandates. Based on this information, NIFA scientific staff drafts a request for applications (RFA), which is reviewed by policy and legislative experts for compliance with Congressional intent and, upon approval, is released publicly.
Each RFA may generate from 2 to more than 600 applications, which then undergo a rigorous review process. That review is conducted by a panel of 3 to 25 individuals with international-level expertise in the field in question. These panels review each application, evaluating it based on its scientific merits and how well it addresses the research priorities determined by Congress and the NIFA stakeholder input process, and the quality of the facilities and researchers who would conduct the project. A summary of the panel review for each eligible application is recorded, and the panel recommends whether or not it should be funded.
Monitoring research and other projects funded by NIFA is a critical part of USDA stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Researchers are required to file annual reports and document their spending to NIFA. These annual reports are reviewed by scientific staff and posted on the public Web site to keep the public informed of research activity and developments. National program leaders and other scientific staff visit research sites and keep in touch with researchers on a routine basis to monitor progress.
Our Funding Opportunities page allows detailed exploration of our various grant programs. It includes search and sort features.
Program Impacts allows visitors several ways to explore the impacts of NIFA's funded research projects.
NIFA Federal Assistance Programs contains narrative details on NIFA's three main funding mechanisms: formula grants; competitive grants; and non-competitive grants and agreements.
The Current Research Information System (CRIS) is NIFA's documentation and reporting system for ongoing and recently completed research projects in agriculture, food and nutrition, and forestry.