The Farm Bill (Section 7404) requires USDA to establish procedures and a timeline under which federal or state commodity boards can propose topics for funding under Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Requests for Applications (RFAs). This page is a compilation of frequently asked questions relating to this provision.
Submission of Topics by Commodity Boards and Review of Topics by NIFA
Review of Applications for Projects that Address Commodity Board Topics
Commodity Board Funding Commitments and Funds Management
Transfer of Commodity Board Funds to NIFA
How can eligible commodity boards submit topics?
Answer: Each proposed topic must be submitted via online form. Submissions must include a clear description of the topic; the total matching contribution that the commodity board will make and a rationale that describes how the topic supports a specific priority area of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (AFRI).
Do the topic suggestions need to be very specific or can they be of a more general nature?
Answer: The specificity of proposed topics is up to the board proposing to co-fund selected projects. The best guidance is to examine the specificity of prior AFRI Request for Applications (RFAs) on related topics. Past RFAs can be found on the AFRI Request for Applications page (also see table of AFRI Program Areas, Funding Levels and Award durations).
Can commodity boards propose topics with international engagement?
Answer: As mentioned in the AFRI RFAs Purpose and Priorities, “NIFA supports global engagement that advances U.S. agricultural goals.” Thus, commodity boards may propose topics that include research or other related activities to be conducted in foreign countries or in collaboration with international or foreign organizations, but such research or other related activities “must clearly demonstrate benefits to the U.S.”
What is the deadline for submitting topics?
Answer: Topics may be submitted at any time; however, all topics to be considered in the current fiscal year should be received by the date specified in the Commodity Board Solicitation Notification. Topics submitted after the specified date will be considered for the current AFRI RFAs in development, to the extent practicable, and may be considered for AFRI RFAs in future years.
What is the timeline for deciding if suggested topics will be included in one of the AFRI RFAs?
Answer: For topics submitted before the current fiscal year deadline, NIFA will decide within 30 days after the submission deadline specified in the Commodity Board Solicitation Notification. The date for evaluating topics submitted after the deadline for possible inclusion in current AFRI RFAs in development, if practicable, will be determined on a case-by-case basis. The date for evaluating topics submitted after the deadline for possible inclusion in future AFRI RFAs will be posted on NIFA's Commodity Boards Web page.
How will research topics be selected?
Answer: NIFA will screen proposed research topics to ensure they were submitted by eligible commodity boards and consult with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to determine that submissions and proposed financial contributions are consistent with commodity promotion laws and commodity boards’ charters as applicable.
Commodity board topics will be reviewed by an internal panel based on evaluation criteria that were developed using stakeholder input from commodity boards and other stakeholders from government, industry, and academia.
Each topic will be evaluated based on alignment with one or more of the statutory AFRI priority areas, alignment with the President’s budget proposal for NIFA as identified in the Department of Agriculture’s annual budget submission; and alignment with the priority areas in the AFRI RFAs to be released by NIFA during the fiscal year for which the commodity board is proposing a topic for funding (for example, within the AFRI Foundational Program RFA, the AFRI Animal Health and Production and Animal Product’s “Animal Reproduction” program area priority).
Will a list of selected topics and their sponsoring commodity boards be posted?
Answer: Selected topics and their sponsoring commodity boards will be clearly marked as such in the AFRI RFAs so that grant applicants can request letters of support for co-funding from the respective commodity board.
How will topics suggested by commodity boards be different from AFRI’s normal priorities?
Answer: Topics suggested by commodity boards must relate closely to the established AFRI priority areas. The suggested topics, however, may provide additional refinement and focus to the established AFRI priorities.
Can multiple commodity groups coordinate to submit a single topic?
Answer: NIFA welcomes proposed topics that are supported by multiple organizations. For any topic, whether proposed by a single group or by multiple groups, the minimum funding requirement depends on the AFRI program (also see table of AFRI Program Areas, Funding Levels and Award durations). NIFA will apply this same limit to the individual Co-funding Agreements it enters. For example, if five groups will each contribute $150,000 to support a single topic, NIFA will consider the topic and enter a separate agreement with each individual group. However, if five groups combine funds to reach a combined minimum contribution of $150,000, NIFA will consider the topic but only enter a single agreement and the cooperating groups must select a single organization to sign the agreement. NIFA will retain the $2,500,000 upper limit per topic whether proposed by a single or by multiple groups.
How will commodity board funded opportunities be advertised?
Answer: Commodity board topics selected under the Commodity Board Solicitation Notification competition will be included in the appropriate AFRI RFA program area.
What does it mean that Commodity Board topic areas may be combined in the same AFRI RFA and priority area?
Answer: Within each RFA, there could be multiple topics from multiple commodity boards but each topic would be listed separately and include contact information for the appropriate commodity board so applicants can request a letter of support from that board. Letters of support for co-funding allow commodity boards to verify their support for an application.
Will AFRI research project proposals be submitted by the Commodity Boards or do they need to come directly from the researchers?
Answer: Commodity boards may submit topics for NIFA to include in the AFRI RFAs under a separate process detailed in the Commodity Board Solicitation Notification, but actual project proposals in response to an RFA with a commodity board topic should be submitted by the scientists who will lead the project.
How will proposals be evaluated? Will Commodity Boards be involved in the project selection process?
Answer: NIFA will use its established peer review process to evaluate and rank the proposals. Commodity boards will not be included in this peer review process.
How will Commodity Boards be assured that their funding is used only for projects that fit their needs and interests?
Answer: NIFA will only use a commodity board’s funding to co-fund a project if the project has received a letter of support from the commodity board specifically indicating that the commodity board is willing to co-fund it. To be considered for co-funding by NIFA and a commodity board, applicants should request letters of support directly from the commodity board prior to or shortly after submitting their application. They will then have 60 days after the application deadline to provide NIFA with the letter from the commodity board. Commodity boards should respond promptly to requests for letters of support and only provide letters for projects they are willing to co-fund.
Can Commodity Boards suggest reviewers?
Those interested in serving on a peer-review panel may contact the National Program Leader listed in the RFA. For more information, please visit: https://nifa.usda.gov/panelist-information.
Will Commodity Boards have access to the panel reviews prior to submitting their letter(s) of support?
Answer: The application and letters of support will be submitted prior to the panel review process. Our intention is that through the letter of support, commodity boards are able to identify any and all projects they are interested in co-funding. Reviews produced by the panel are confidential.
Can applications be funded without a Commodity Board letter of support?Answer: NIFA will not use a commodity board’s funds to support projects that do not have a letter of support from the commodity board specifically indicating that the commodity board is willing to co-fund the project. NIFA may use NIFA funds to make an award for highly rated applications without a letter of support, or NIFA may ask the appropriate commodity board to consider co-funding such proposals if their funding has not been allocated for other projects.
Can only research entities in the United States submit? If so, can a researcher in another country collaborate with a researcher in the US and submit a proposal for consideration?Answer: For AFRI programs, eligibility is very broad. The lead Project Director must be at a U.S. entity, but collaborators can be international. The RFA will contain detailed information about applicant eligibility.
What are the minimum and maximum amounts a commodity board can contribute to funding the topics they have proposed?Answer: Commodity boards may support multiple awards for each proposed topic and they can propose multiple topics if they want. For each proposed topic, the commodity board must provide a minimum that aligns with the AFRI RFA budget amounts (see table of AFRI Program Areas, Funding Levels and Award durations) for a maximum of $2.5 million per topic. When a commodity board proposes more than one topic, the maximum NIFA will accept from a single board is $10 million.
In addition, commodity boards must provide 50 percent of the funds for every co-funded project. Because different project types and different program area priorities may have different funding levels, the minimum funding necessary to support a less expensive project type will be less than the amount needed to co-fund a larger project. Descriptions of the different AFRI project types can be found in the table of AFRI Program Areas, Funding Levels and Award durations.
What commitments do commodity boards need to make and when do they make them?Answer: Within 30 days after the topic submission deadline, NIFA will notify commodity boards whether NIFA intends to include their proposed topic(s) in the current fiscal year AFRI RFA. At that time, NIFA will include a Co-funding Agreement that must be signed and returned within 30 days. This agreement will specify that adequate funds be put into an escrow account and the deadline for depositing these funds. It will also require confidentiality and non-disclosure of RFA topics before the RFA is released.
When will commodity boards know whether the funds will be used?Answer: Commodity boards will be notified whether their escrowed funds will be used after the Peer Review Panel is complete and NIFA has reviewed the slate of projects recommended for funding.
Can commodity boards augment funding for projects that are currently underway or to enhance future projects which are proving successful?Answer: The AFRI program does not normally provide supplemental awards to existing projects outside of the established RFA and peer review process. If a commodity board is especially interested in additional work from a co-funded project team, they could propose follow-up work as a new topic for an upcoming RFA or they could support further work unilaterally without co-funding from AFRI by working directly with the project team.
Answer: All awards will be made under the general AFRI Terms and Conditions that currently allow the lesser of an institution’s officially negotiated indirect cost rate or the equivalent of 30 percent of the total Federal funds awarded.
Commodity boards often prohibit payment of indirect costs. Will jointly funded projects be allowed to include indirect costs?
After the commodity board has signed a Co-funding Agreement, should the commodity board mail a check to NIFA?Answer: No. Once the co-funding agreement is signed, the commodity board should set aside the committed amount in an escrow account. No funds should be sent to USDA at this time.
How do the commodity boards set up an escrow account?Answer: NIFA does not have specific requirements for the structure of the escrow account. Choose the best fit for the organization.
If commodity boards have multiple topics, do we need a separate escrow account for each topic?Answer: NIFA does not have specific requirements for the structure of the escrow account. Choose the best fit for the organization.
Could the Escrow account simply be a different account within our internal accounting system, or separate account at our bank?Answer: NIFA does not have specific requirements for the structure of the escrow account. Choose the best fit for the organization.
How long will the funds be sitting in escrow?Answer: Funds should remain in escrow until NIFA notifies the commodity board that a grant will be funded, through a Bill of Collection.
What will be the length of time between signing the agreement and money sitting in escrow?Answer: Funds should be put into escrow within 14 days of signing a Co-funding Agreement. Funds should remain in escrow until the commodity board is notified via a Bill of Collection that a grant will be funded.
How will the commodity board know how much funding to transfer out of escrow into the NIFA deposit fund?Answer: A Bill of Collection will be sent by NIFA to the commodity board billing contact listed on the Co-funding Agreement. The Bill of Collection will indicate the amount of funds needed to support the grant under the commodity board topic.
How does the commodity board send money to the NIFA deposit fund?Answer: The Bill of Collection will include the mailing address for the commodity board to mail a check for deposit into the NIFA deposit fund at the U.S. Treasury. The mailing address will be for the National Finance Center (NFC), which helps manage the NIFA deposit fund.
Explain how funds from the escrow account will be transferred into the deposit account.Answer: The commodity board will mail a check to an address provided on the Bill of Collection. No funds are to be sent directly to NIFA. No funds should be removed from escrow and sent to the NFC until a Bill of Collection is received.
How will those applications selected for the award receive the funding?Answer: NIFA will process co-funded grant awards in the same way that we make AFRI awards.
Are commodity boards required to support the 4% administrative costs?Answer: The Farm Bill authority allows the Secretary to use up to 4 percent of contributed funds from commodity boards to pay for the administrative costs associated with the program. NIFA incurs costs to manage the grants making process, including the RFA and solicitation, peer review, and post award stages of the process. Below is an example of how the 4% will be calculated for a grant award totaling $500,000 with $250,000 contributed from the commodity board:
|Sponsored Topic(s)||Contribution(s) ($)|
|Commodity Board Contribution||$250,000.00|
|Total Project Funding Available||$490,000.00|