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Innovative Grant Opportunities Level the Field for New Scientists, Small and Minority-Serving Institutions

Nifa Author
Faith Peppers, Director of Communications
KANSAS CITY, MO, July 23, 2020 – A new opportunity introduced today by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture will help plant seeds of success for early-career researchers.
Through the USDA-NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation’s leading competitive grants program for agricultural sciences, applicants who meet eligibility requirements as a New Investigator can apply for a seed grant or a New Investigator standard grant.
“It’s difficult for new investigators to find success with that first award,” said USDA-NIFA Acting Director Parag Chitnis. “When submitting to the New Investigators seed grant opportunity, beginning scientists will only compete against other beginning scientists, carving out space for early success.” 
Former NIFA Director J. Scott Angle championed this new funding opportunity to attract and retain promising new scientists to agricultural research. In addition, AFRI is continuing to offer Strengthening Grants for researchers at small and mid-sized or minority-serving degree-granting institutions. This continued engagement of investigators in agriculture-related research, extension and education is a timely investment that USDA-NIFA leaders hope will bring needed encouragement for scientists and universities struggling in the wake of the pandemic disruption to research and education.
New Investigator Grants
To qualify for the program, applicants must meet prescribed criteria as a New Investigator. An individual who is beginning their career, does not have an extensive scientific publication record, and has fewer than five years postgraduate career-track experience (i.e., positions in which the individual’s institution allows them to submit competitive grant applications as Project Director beyond a fellowship) can apply for a New Investigator Grant for research, education, and/or extension activities.  
The new investigator may not have received competitively awarded federal research funds as Project Director (PD), with the exception of pre- or postdoctoral grants or AFRI Seed Grants. However, if the applicant received Federal funding as Co-PD of previously awarded competitive grants, it will not count against their eligibility as a New Investigator. Eligibility requirements for a New Investigator Grant apply only to the PD and not to Co-PDs or collaborators.
Starting in FY 2021, two types of New Investigator Grants are available:
  • New Investigator Standard Grant, which is an AFRI Standard Grant in all respects except that the Project Director meets the eligibility criteria for New Investigators.
  • New Investigator Seed Grant, which is available under each program area priority within NIFA. Applications from New Investigators will be reviewed with other Seed Grant applications, with special consideration given to funding New Investigator Seed Grant applications.
AFRI Seed Grants provide funds to help investigators collect preliminary data through either domestic or international collaborations or to complete other preliminary activities to prepare for applying for future AFRI grants. They are not intended to fund stand-alone projects, but rather projects that will lead to further research in one of the AFRI-funded priority areas.
Seed Grants are limited to a total of $300,000 (including indirect costs) for up to two years and are not renewable. 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.
 Strengthening Grants Eligibility
In addition to the New Investigator Grants, AFRI is also offering Strengthening Grants for researchers at small and mid-sized or minority-serving degree-granting institutions that previously had limited institutional success for receiving federal funds. Scientists at State Agricultural Experiment Stations or degree-granting institutions eligible for USDA Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research funding are also eligible. Grants proposals submitted by qualified institutions are eligible for reserved strengthening funds for Research, Education, Extension, and Integrated Project grants. An easy-to-follow Flow Chart for Strengthening Grant Eligibility can help determine eligibility. Requirements for Strengthening Grants apply only to the PD’s institution and not to the institutions of Co-PDs or collaborators.
NIFA’s mission is to invest in and advance agricultural research, education, and extension to solve societal challenges. NIFA’s investments in transformative science directly support the long-term prosperity and global preeminence of U.S. agriculture. To learn more about NIFA’s impact on agricultural sciences, visit, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter @USDA_NIFA, #NIFAImpacts.
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