Today, October 1, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) celebrates our tenth anniversary. Ten years ago, we replaced the former Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service when Congress established NIFA through the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Pub. L. No. 110-246, enacted June 18, 2008, also known as the 2008 Farm Bill). As USDA’s extramural research funding agency, NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and Extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges.
To know where we are headed for the next ten years and beyond, we must first know our past. Landmark farm bills and other significant legislation passed by the Congress since the mid to late 19th century have shaped our, and our predecessor agencies’, history. This history is largely tied to the establishment of land-grant institutions (also referred to as land-grant universities, or LGUs) and delivery of Cooperative Extension Services (also known as CES or Extension).
The Morrill Act of 1862 created land-grant institutions in order to provide equal access for all to higher education, with a focus on farming and mechanical skills. Subsequently, the Morrill Act of 1890 established the 1890 land-grant institutions to address educational inequality among African Americans. The Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act of 1994 established the 1994 land-grant institutions to address educational inequality among Native Americans.
NIFA’s roots go back to 1888, a year after the Hatch Act (of 1887) authorized strengthening the capacity of LGU’s to research agricultural problems faced by rural citizens. The Act funded land-grant colleges in order to create a series of agricultural experiment stations. To support this mission, USDA established the earliest predecessor to NIFA - the Office of Experiment Stations.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the CES system. This partnership that continues today between USDA/NIFA, the LGU system, and state and local governments of more than 3,000 counties (or county equivalents) enables the dissemination of information produced by the experiment stations’ research. Extension combines the expertise and resources of Federal, state, and local governments and is designed to meet the need for research, knowledge, and educational programs. Funding for Extension programs, including 4-H, conducted by LGU’s is provided at the Federal level by NIFA and at the state and local government levels. Other Federal agencies and private sources (such as National 4-H Council, and state and local 4-H foundations) may also provide additional funding to support certain programs.
Based on the multitude of legislation that has been enacted into law since the first Morrill Act of 1862, NIFA has about 60 grant programs that cover the spectrum of research, education, and Extension. About ten of the programs are capacity programs, as established by the Congress when respectively created, which provide support for research and Extension activities at LGU’s through grants to the states on the basis of statutory formulas. The other approximately 50 programs are competitive programs, also established by the Congress when respectively created, that provide support for research, education, and Extension through grants that are scientifically peer reviewed and awarded. Scientific peer review is the evaluation of the technical quality of a proposed project and its relevance the respective program’s goals, performed by experts with the scientific knowledge and technical skills to conduct the proposed research work.
NIFA applies an integrated approach of research, education, and Extension to ensure that groundbreaking discoveries in agriculture-related sciences and technologies reach those who can put them into practice, ultimately benefiting America’s farmers, ranchers, and producers. To learn more about specific impacts (NIFA funded success stories), please visit the following NIFA webpage: nifa.usda.gov/impacts. NIFA also collaborates with leading scientists, experts, and educators in our stakeholder organizations to find innovative solutions to the most pressing local and global problems. In partnership with other Federal science agencies, NIFA serves as a vital contributor to science policy decision-making.
NIFA has a long tradition of strong collaboration with our grantees, partners, stakeholders, and the Congress. As NIFA implements our new and existing provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill and as we look forward to the next decade and beyond in our new location, we commit to continuing this tradition to ensure that NIFA leads the food and agricultural sciences to create a better future for the Nation and the World.