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USDA Announces $15.6 Million in Grants to Strengthen Rural Communities

WASHINGTON, May 4, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced $15.6 million in grants to increase prosperity in rural America through research, education, and extension programs focused on promoting rural community development, economic growth, and sustainability. These grants were made through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Foundational program, administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

"Nearly 60 million Americans live in rural areas, and their value and impact through the agriculture industry can be felt both domestically and internationally," said Secretary Tom Vilsack. "To help these communities remain prosperous and viable, we need to support discovery of new ways that promote economic viability among producers, small businesses, and communities in rural America."

Farmers, ranchers, and rural communities are the backbone for Americans everywhere, providing food, feed, fiber, fuels, and open spaces. However, rural areas and communities face many hardships. Nearly 85 percent of persistent poverty counties are located in rural areas and over six million rural Americans, including about 1.5 million children, live in poverty today. Funding from NIFA is expected to assist communities and regions in creating self-sustaining, long-term economic development through research and strategic planning.

The following projects have been selected for awards in each AFRI program:

Innovations for Rural Entrepreneurs and Communities:

  • University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, $499,966
  • University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., $500,000
  • Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich., $499,738
  • Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, Miss., $149,974
  • North Carolina Central University, Durham, N.C., $417,942
  • Texas A&M University, Kingsville, Texas, $47,570
  • University of Vermont, Burlington, Vt., $494,110
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., $498,212

Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities – Environment and Natural Resources:

  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $500,000
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $499,995
  • University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $498,434
  • University of Illinois, Champaign, Ill., $499,534
  • North Carolina A&T State University, Greensboro, N.C., $499,995
  • University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb., $498,641
  • Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., $49,000

Agricultural Economics and Rural Communities – Economics, Markets and Trade:

  • Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., $482,831
  • University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Ark., $398,186
  • University of California-Davis, Davis, Calif., $474,132
  • University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn., $499,872
  • Albany State University, Albany, Ga., $499,386
  • Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan., $498,396
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass., $499,990
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., $462,829
  • Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $499,990
  • West Virginia University, Morgantown, W. Va., $402,416

NIFA also provided funds through the Small and Medium-sized Farm program. This program assists farmers and ranchers with management strategies and new technologies to improve the viability and competitiveness of small and medium-sized dairy, poultry, livestock, crop, forestry, and other commodity operations.

Small and Medium-Sized Farms:

  • Alabama A&M University, Huntsville, Ala., $480,000
  • Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Ala., $480,000
  • Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La., $479,880
  • Tufts University, Medford, Mass., $479,194
  • University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo., $477,860
  • North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N.C., $469,771
  • Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y., $478,342
  • South Dakota State University, Brookings, S.D., $479,751
  • Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $479,995
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wis., $425,000

The AFRI Foundational Program supports projects that sustain and enhance agricultural and related activities in rural areas and to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and alleviate poverty. Some of the issues covered include demographic changes and impacts in rural areas; consumer behavior; how markets are structured and perform; and agriculture's impact on the environment.

President Obama's 2017 budget request proposed to fully fund the AFRI program, doubling the amount that was available in 2016 to $700 million. Since its creation, AFRI has been funded at less than half the levels established in the 2008 Farm Bill, and USDA has only been able to fund one out of 10 research proposals presented. While grants awarded to universities, non-profits, community groups, businesses, foundations, associations, and federal agency and international partnerships have led to significant achievements that address critical issues related to agriculture, food, the environment, and communities, thousands of innovative research proposals have been left unfunded.

Many of the awarded projects also align with USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinated efforts across the Department to support local and regional food systems. Under this administration, USDA has invested over $1 billion in more than 40,000 projects that are creating new economic opportunities in rural America, increasing access to healthy foods, and connecting urban and rural communities across the country.

NIFA invests in and advances agricultural research, education, and extension and seeks to make transformative discoveries that solve societal challenges. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.


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