The USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced $6.5M in grants through its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program this week. The grants will fund research to improve plant health, production, and products through plant breeding. The grants reflect, in part, the agency’s response to a report criticizing the lack of public funding for basic research. That much-heralded report, issued by the National Research Council, said that:

“Waning public investments in U.S. agricultural R&D will probably slow innovation and slow the growth of the knowledge base necessary to meet the ever-evolving challenges presented by increasingly competitive global markets, increasingly scarce natural resources, growing environmental issues, and expanding demands for healthy, safe, and accessible food for consumers in the United States and other countries.”

Most, but not all, of the funding was received by public land grant institutions. The funded projects focus on improving crop yield, efficiency, quality, and adaptation to diverse agricultural systems, according to the USDA. The funded projects also address the larger concern about securing the world’s food supply in a time of both increasing population and resource constraints.

“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.”

You can read a news report about the program by Agri-Pulse here. To learn more about NIFA and the AFRI program, visit its website. To download a free PDF of the National Research Council report about the challenges facing agricultural research, follow this link.