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The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), America's flagship agricultural competitive grants program, supports scientists, researchers, and extension professionals as they seek solutions to our most pressing societal challenges in agriculture, health, food safety and security, bioenergy, natural resources, and more.

Close up of microscope lenses by Konstantin Kolosov, courtesy Getty Images.
Photo by Konstantin Kolosov, courtesy Getty Images.

AFRI advances fundamental new science and translational research and development projects that build on those discoveries. AFRI also supports education and extension programs that deliver science-based knowledge to people, allowing them to make informed practical decisions.

These AFRI-supported efforts enable our nation to respond to significant challenges, both here and abroad. Challenges include water quality, adapting to and mitigating the effects of changing climate, restoring soil health, improving food safety and quality, preventing childhood obesity, promoting the bioeconomy, and advancing America’s competitiveness internationally.

Ultimately, our expectation is that the discoveries, along with the extension and education outcomes, promote farm profitability.

Stakeholder input, through requests for applications and public meetings, is critically important for AFRI's continual improvement. More information is available on the AFRI Stakeholder Feedback page of the NIFA website.

AFRI graphic with two boxes. AFRI FY18 Funding: $400 Million. Projects: 686.In FY 2018, Congress appropriated $400 million for the AFRI program. During FY 2018, NIFA received approximately 2,707 proposals for AFRI grants and, after a peer-review process, made 686 awards. The funded projects focused on the six agricultural priorities of the 2014 Farm Bill:

  • Agricultural economics and rural communities;
  • Agricultural systems and technology;
  • Animal health and production and animal products;
  • Bioenergy, natural resources, and the environment;
  • Food safety, nutrition, and health; and
  • Plant health and production and plant products.

Impacts

Cooperation is the Key to Fighting Weeds - Weeds cause tremendous economic damage to agriculture - corn and soybean producers in North America lose more than $40 billion per year in an uphill battle against herbicide resistance. However, a new report from scientists at the University of Illinois and USDA's Agricultural Research Service adds a new weapon to the fight: Conversation. Researchers say that cooperating with neighboring farmers to make decisions about how to manage herbicide-resistant weeds delays the spread of herbicide resistance. Simulations show that mixing herbicides delays resistance and the delay gets longer with increasing levels of farmer cooperation.

New Technology Pays Off, One Acre at a Time - Clemson University researchers are using new nutrient-management technology to save up to $54 per acre on cotton production. With 180,000 acres of cotton production in South Carolina alone, there is potential for a lot of added revenue for growers. The technology involves a systems operator who flies a drone with an infrared camera over the field to map nutrient deficiencies in plants. An irrigation system then uses a variable-rate nitrogen applicator to apply only the amount of fertilizer needed to specific locations around the field. Farmers save on fuel and fertilizer costs and the environment benefits from reduced nutrient runoff from their fields.

Putting the Sting into Integrated Pest Management - Auburn University entomologists have discovered a wasp that may help soybean producers and other farmers in the Southeast rid their fields of a major pest, produce more crops, and see higher profits. Though only about the size of a pinhead, the newly detected wasp, Ooencyrtus nezarae, can do plenty of damage to the kudzu bug, a quarter-inch-long invasive pest to soybeans and other legume crops. Left unchecked, kudzu bugs can reduce crop yield by up to 60 percent.

Using CRISPR to Improve Wheat Yields - Scientists at Kansas State University are using Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR) technology to improve the wheat genes that control several yield component traits, such as seed size and the number of seeds per plant. They have identified 19 yield component genes and are continuing research to develop transgenic lines for both spring and winter wheat. Their work will fix known defects and improve gene properties. As a result, wheat breeders in Kansas and other states will harvest greater yields for consumers and improve local economies.

Zinc Plays Vital Role in Animal Fertility - Infertility costs the livestock industry billions of dollars each year. Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that zinc plays a key role in promoting fertility in males. In addition to improving in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination in livestock, the research provides a quick and accurate evaluation of livestock fertility. If this research adds just one more pig to every litter, it would increase the income of U.S. pork farmers by $130 million per year.

Copper May Be the Key to Feeding the World - Copper deficiency compromises crop fertility and reduces grain/seed yield, but exactly why is not known. Two Cornell University researchers are using cutting-edge equipment to map and identify regions of the chromosome associated with improving copper movement to wheat reproductive organs and grain yield. Tests show that increasing copper uptake can lead to a 7-fold increase in yield for wheat and other cereal crops, including rice, barley, and oats.

Turning a Cyber Eye toward Animal Production - Precision field crop agriculture has been a successful proving ground for drones and drone-based technologies. Now, scientists at Virginia Tech are using cyber-physical systems research to explore the relationship between individual animal and herd behaviors on dairy farm efficiency. Researchers will develop enhanced animal mobility sensors, in-dwelling rumen sensors, automated feed delivery, a cow weight sensor, and in-line milk analysis equipment with the goal of improving sustainability, efficiency, and profitability.

Influence of Nitrogen on Wheat Grain Yield and Protein Yield - Rising atmospheric CO2 levels inhibit the conversion of nitrate into amino acids in wheat and compromise protein yields. Researchers at University of California – Davis are working to determine the influence of CO2 concentration on wheat carbon fixation, grain and protein yield, and the genetic bases of these responses. Success in this research will improve the productivity and nutritional quality of wheat.

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