Agriculture & Food Research Initiative

Program Basics

The 2008 Farm Bill created the new Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), a competitive grant program that provides grants for fundamental and applied research, extension, and education to address food and agricultural issues.  AFRI takes the place of both the National Research Initiative (NRI), authorized in 1990, and the Initiative for Future Agricultural and Food Systems (IFAFS), authorized in 1998.

The overarching grant categories established in the farm bill include:

USDA significantly changed AFRI in 2010, creating seven general grant categories:  a foundational program, five “societal challenge” categories (climate change, global food security, childhood obesity prevention, bioenergy, and food safety), and pre- and post-doctoral fellowships (see “Implementation Basics” below for more information).

State agricultural experiment stations, colleges and universities, university research foundations, other research institutions and organizations, Federal agencies, national laboratories, private organizations or corporations, and individuals are eligible to apply for grants under the program.

The maximum term of a grant is ten years, and most grants are offered for up to five years.  Reimbursement for indirect costs is limited to not greater than 22 percent of the grant total.  Indirect costs may also be counted as matching grants, provided that the combined total of reimbursements for indirect costs and indirect costs used for the match does not exceed 22 percent.

2008 Farm Bill Changes

The 2008 Farm Bill added five new grant categories to those that already existed under either the NRI or IFAFS:

The priority grant category for the viability and competitiveness of small and medium sized family farm operations was carried over from IFAFS.  Carried over from NRI is the requirement that all grant categories should emphasize sustainable agriculture wherever applicable.   The new farm bill lengthens the maximum grant term from five years to ten years to accommodate in particular classical plant and animal breeding projects and long-term agro-ecological systems research.

Section 7406 of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (FCEA) of 2008 amends Subsection 450(b) of the Competitive, Special, and Facilities Research Grant Act of 196, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 450i(b) and a note to 7 U.S.C. Section 450i.

In addition, conforming amendments are made to Section 1473 of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 3319; Section 1671(d) of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, as codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 5924(d); and Section 1672B(b) of the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 5925b(b).


AFRI has an authorization for appropriations of up to $700 million for each of fiscal years 2008-2012.   In recent years, the annual agricultural appropriation passed by Congress has provided about $200 million for NRI/IFAFS combined.  Whether and how fast that total funding level increases will be a matter for the annual agricultural appropriations bills to determine.  In 2010, Congress appropriated $262 million to AFRI.

Under the new law, 60 percent of the funds for projects that include research will be directed toward grants for fundamental (or basic) research, and 40 percent toward applied research.  Of the AFRI funds allocated to fundamental research, not less than 30 percent will be directed toward research by multidisciplinary teams.

In addition, of the total amount appropriated for AFRI, at least 30 percent is to be used for “integrated” projects that combine research and education, research and extension, education and extension, or all three.

Implementation Basics

The AFRI program is administered by the new National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA; formerly, Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service) of USDA. Each year NIFA will release Requests for Applications (RFAs) which are available on its website ( or on

NIFA is releasing seven RFAs through AFRI:

The RFAs also include opportunities for planning grants, conference and sabbatical grants, and strengthening grants.  The RFAs list specific longer-term objectives and annual priority areas.  The RFAs list the due dates for letters of intent and proposals under each of the programs, which vary, and indicate the approximate amount of total funding that is available for each program.  Proposals are reviewed and ranked for merit and relevance by peer review committees, with top ranked proposals selected for funding.

A six month public comment period on the RFA is triggered when an RFA is released.  During the comment period, recommendations for priority topics for the following year’s RFA may be submitted to NIFA by individuals and organizations.

Foundational Program

The Foundational Program RFA (pdf) makes $64 million available in 2010 to fund  research-only projects in program areas that existed in the previous iteration of AFRI and that correspond to congressionally-designated priorities written into the the farm bill.  These programs previously received the bulk of the program funding, so many of the earlier programs that evolved over the past several decades have now been ended as separate priorities, given the decrease in dollars available.  One of those was the Managed Ecosystem program that NSAC has backed for many years, though aspects of that program can now be found in some of the challenge area RFAs.

The new RFA collapses the long-standing Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms program and the long-standing Rural Development program into a single combined program, and creates the Economics of Market and Development program from the Agribusiness Markets and Trade program in previous RFAs.  Despite the overall $61 million increase in AFRI for this fiscal year, the total funding for these three, now two programs, remained static at $10 million.  Also, despite 2008 Farm Bill language adding rural entrepreneurship as a designated priority, not only was it not added as a new extension and applied research program, but the ongoing farms and rural development programs were melded into a single offering.

Climate Change

The Climate Change RFA (pdf) makes $55 million available in 2010 to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that seek to reduce agricultural use of energy, nitrogen, and water, and that increase carbon sequestration.  The RFA includes funding for a Regional Integrated CAP that addresses mitigation, adaptation, education, and outreach goals in a region, as well as a CAP supporting research and education activities by conventional breeders to develop new varieties adapted to changing climates.  The latter was a clear result of work supported by NSAC and many member and partner organizations and researchers to obtain farm bill language to make improved support for classical plant and animal breeding an AFRI priority.

Global Food Security

The Global Food Security RFA (pdf) makes $19 million available in 2010 to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that improve food availability and food accessibility, focusing on research that addresses production challenges and that supports the development of sustainable food systems.  Of particular note is an integrated project that supports the development of local and regional food systems that will increase food security in disadvantaged U.S. communities and create viable local economies.

Childhood Obesity Prevention

The Childhood Obesity Prevention RFA (pdf) makes $25 million available in 2010 to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that contribute to reducing the prevalence of obesity among children and teens.  The RFA seeks to fund proposals that generate new knowledge, develop effective behavioral and environmental interventions, bring to scale effective interventions and assess their impacts, and increase the number of researchers, educators, and practitioners trained to address the problem of obesity.


The Bioenergy RFA (pdf) makes $40 million available in 2010 to fund Regional Bioenergy CAPs and research grants to help meet the goal of 36 billion gallons/year of biofuels by 2022.  The Regional Bioenergy CAPs aim to support the development of regional systems of bioenergy production that reduce dependence on foreign oil; have net positive social, environmental, and rural economic impacts; and are integrated with current agricultural systems.

Food Safety

The Food Safety RFA (pdf) makes $20 million available in 2010 to fund integrated, research, education, and extension projects that seek to improve food safety through the development and implementation of detection technologies, traceability systems, and other strategies, and through increasing the number of food safety scientists.  The RFA focuses on particular pathogens and viruses, and includes research on multiple scales of production and processing.

The complete list of grant programs within AFRI, deadlines, and contact information for program leaders is available online.

NIFA has issued a final rule on September 4, 2009, with general administrative rules that apply to all NIFA competitive grants programs, available at

Examples of Past Grant Recipients

In its first year, AFRI offered grants similar to those offered by its predecessors, the National Research Initiative and the Initiative for Future Agricultural and Food Systems.  Examples of grants funded through those programs are listed below.  Examples of grants funded through the new AFRI program offered in 2010 will be listed after awards have been made.

Managed Ecosystems

The University of Wisconsin-Madison received a $494,000 National Research Initiative grant in 2007 under the NRI Managed Ecosystems program to identify nutrient management practices that maximize grower returns and environmental efficiency for organic production of processing snap beans and sweet corn. Funded as an integrated research project, the researchers also plan to inform and train growers, processors, students, extension educators, and ag professionals on the economic and environment impacts of organic snap bean and sweet corn production.

Agricultural Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms

In 2006, the University of California-Davis received a $400,000 grant under the NRI Agricultural Prosperity for Small and Medium-Sized Farms program to assess the potential for profit in institutional markets for small and medium-sized farmers, and to determine if institutional markets can increase the use of environmentally sound production practices. Once the findings are complete, the researchers will recommend, through outreach activities including technical assistance, ‘best practices’ that will improve the market access and profitability of small and medium-sized producers.

In 2007, the University of Vermont and partners received a $468,000 grant for research, outreach and classroom education on farmland access and tenure for new farmers, farm succession challenges, and the impacts of tenure and succession arrangements on land use and the environment.

Farm Efficiency and Profitability

Fort Valley State University in Georgia received a $1.8 million grant in 2001, under the IFAFS Farm Efficiency and Profitability program to improve the profitability for small and minority farmers and farm related businesses located in the persistently poor, Black Belt Region in eight southern states.

USDA Contact Information

The current website for AFRI is

AFRI Program Office:

Dr. Deborah Sheely, Deputy Administrator, Competitive Programs, ,

Dr. Mark Poth, Research Director, ,

Dr. Diana Jerkins, Acting Integrated Programs Director, ,

Each AFRI national program area has its own program leader or program area contact. The program leaders and their contact information will be available in each year’s RFA.  Programs that may be of particular interest to sustainable agriculture organizations and researchers, educators, and extension agents include, but are not limited to:

For a list of all of the programs and contact information, click here.