Ivan Hiltpold examines corn plants for damage from western corn rootworm in a greenhouse at ARS’s Plant Genetics Research Unit in Columbia, Missouri.
Ivan Hiltpold examines corn plants for damage from western corn rootworm in a greenhouse at ARS’s Plant Genetics Research Unit in Columbia, Missouri.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced more than $6.5 million in grants to improve plant health, production, and products. The grants were funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (AFRI). This is NIFA’s flagship competitive grant program authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill.

“As the world’s population increases, plants play a vital role in the success of the national and global economy,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “It is imperative that we study plant breeding and nutrient utilization in order to have a safe and secure food supply in the future.”

Some of the projects funded will address issues concerning zebra chip disease in potatoes, improving soybean productivity, and controlling diseases affecting tomato health and fruit quality.

The awards were made under the AFRI Foundational Program priority areas of plant breeding for agricultural production, as well as photosynthetic efficiency and nutrient utilization in agricultural plants.

The funded plant breeding projects focus on improving crop yield, efficiency, quality, and adaptation to diverse agricultural systems. Photosynthetic and nutrient utilization projects focus on increasing plant productivity and improving nutrient uptake, assimilation, accumulation, and utilization.

Fiscal Year 2014 plant breeding awards include:

  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $500,000
  • University of Idaho, Moscow, Id., $494,000
  • Agricultural Research Service, Peoria, Ill., $500,000
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., $500,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $33,000
  • Ohio State University, Wooster, Ohio, two separate grants, $500,000 each
  • Organic Seed Alliance, Port Townsend, Wash., $33,000
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $500,000

Fiscal Year 2014 photosynthetic and nutrient utilization awards include:

  • University of California, Davis, Calif., $25,000
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $499,991
  • Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, $499,991
  • University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H., $493,460
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., $20,325
  • University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, N.M., $15,000
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $22,000
  • Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, $482,914
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $499,974
  • Agricultural Research Service, Peoria, Ill., $499,099

The AFRI Plant Health and Production and Plant Products program aligns with the Research, Education, and Economics Action Plan’s goals of securing a local and global food supply and responding to climate and energy needs. The information gained from these projects will assist in overcoming challenges in food security, bioenergy, climate change, and global competition.

AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is at www.nifa.usda.gov.