Centers of Excellence Frequently Asked Questions

Thursday, May 16, 2019

1. What is a Center of Excellence?

A Center of Excellence (COE) in food and agricultural research, extension, and education is a grantee whose application was not only found to be highly meritorious by a peer panel, but met additional criteria (see below) to receive the designation. This designation is specific to a grant application. 

2. What is the eligibility to be considered?

The eligibility for consideration as a COE is broad. When responding to a competitive grant opportunity that offers a COE opportunity, the application must include at least one of the following: State agricultural experiment stations; colleges and universities; university research foundations; other research institutions and organizations; Federal agencies; national laboratories; private organizations, foundations or corporations; or individuals.

3. What competitive grant programs will offer COE opportunities?

  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – Foundational and Applied Science; Sustainable Agricultural Systems
  • Aquaculture Research
  • Biomass Research and Development Initiative
  • Biotechnology Risk Assessment Research Grants Program
  • Children, Youth, and Families at Risk
  • Crop Protection/Pest Management
  • Farm Business Management and Benchmarking
  • Farm Safety and Youth Farm Safety Education and Certification
  • Methyl Bromide Transition
  • Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative
  • Organic Transition Program
  • Rural Health and Safety Program
  • Specialty Crop Research Initiative

4. How will COE be identified? 

For programs offering COE opportunities, the requests for applications will invite applicants, if they choose, to address the COE criteria in their Project Narratives, in addition to addressing the standard program evaluation criteria. Applicants choosing to address the COE criteria in their Project Narratives will be subject to the same page limitations as those who do not. If an application is highly ranked during peer review, the same peer panel that evaluated its relevance and merit will evaluate whether the COE standard was met, based on the information provided by the applicant in their Project Narrative.

5. What criteria must be met to be designated as a COE?

 To be designated as a COE, applicants must justify the following as it relates to the implementation of the proposed research and/or extension activity outlined in their application:

  • The ability of the COE to ensure coordination and cost effectiveness by reducing unnecessarily duplicative efforts regarding research, teaching, and extension.
  • In addition to any applicable matching requirements, the ability of the COE to leverage available resources by using public-private partnerships among agricultural industry groups, institutions of higher education, and the federal government. Resources leveraged should be commensurate with the size of the award.
  • The planned scope and capability of the COE to implement teaching initiatives to increase awareness and effectively disseminate solutions to target audiences through extension activities
  • The ability or capacity of the COE to increase the economic returns to rural communities by identifying, attracting, and directing funds to high priority agricultural issues.
  • Additionally, where practicable (not required), COE applicants should describe proposed efforts to improve teaching capacity and infrastructure at colleges and universities (including land-grant colleges and universities, cooperating forestry schools, certified Non-Land-Grant Colleges of Agriculture, and schools of veterinary medicine.

6. How will NIFA be providing priority in funding to applicants who meet the COE criteria?

Priority in funding will be provided after all eligible applicants have been competitively peer reviewed, and ranked in accordance with program’s standard evaluation criteria.

Applications that rank highly meritorious and request consideration as COE will be further evaluated by peer panels to determine whether they have met the criteria to be COE. In instances where they are found to be equally meritorious with applications of non-COE, based on peer review, selection for funding will be weighed in favor of applicants meeting the COE criteria. NIFA will effectively use the COE prioritization as a “tie breaker.”

7. Is there only going to be one COE for each grant competition?

NIFA is not limiting the number of COE that can be funded in a competition; however, COE opportunities are not available in all programs or for all project types. Requests for applications describe the available opportunities.

8. What are the opportunities for those who do not meet the criteria for COE?

Applicants whose proposed projects rank highly meritorious but who did not request consideration as a COE or who are not deemed to have met the COE standard may still receive funding under any of NIFA’s competitive grant programs.

9. How will I know I’ve been designated as a Center of Excellence?

Applicant’s Notice of Award will reflect that, for that particular grant program, the applicant meets all of the requirements of a COE. Entities recognized as COE will maintain that distinction for the duration of their award or as identified in the terms and conditions of that award.

10. What is the purpose of the COE provision in the Farm Bill?

The purpose of the COE provision in the Farm Bill is to provide COE with priority consideration when selecting recipients of grants from NIFA’s research or extension competitive grant programs.

11. Where in my application do I address the COE criteria?

If applicants choose to address COE criteria, they must do so in their Project Narrative, subject to any page limitations on that section of the application. 

 12. How do I provide feedback to NIFA on the COE designation process?

Feedback on the COE designation process can be sent to Once NIFA has completed the first round of COE evaluations, we will be holding a series of webinars to gather stakeholder feedback on the COE designation process. Details will be posted here.

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