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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Summary

The past century’s remarkable advances in agriculture have demonstrated how public support for agricultural research, education, and extension can enable talented U.S. scientists to improve food, nutrition, and agriculture. As new, complex challenges emerge to the sustainable production of food, fuel, and fiber for a growing and increasingly competitive global community, the innovative solutions stemming from investments in science and technology are needed now more than ever.

Research-induced improvements in agricultural productivity help ensure that the U.S. agriculture and food sectors remain internationally competitive. Historically, the United States has led the world in providing the necessary federal support for research and development (R&D) that spurred innovation in agriculture and enabled the country to become a major contributor to the global food, fiber, and biofuels economies. Yet its contribution as a major producer and exporter of agriculture and food produce has declined in relative terms over more recent times. 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. A continuation of this trend jeopardizes the United States’ ability to maintain competitiveness in international agriculture and food markets, thereby undermining food and nutrition security in the United States and elsewhere in the world.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the principal federal

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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agency that addresses the interrelated issues concerning food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, and nutrition. USDA has played a key role in supporting research for agriculture since the passage of the Hatch Act in 1887, but its use of competitive funding as a mechanism to support extramural research began more recently in 1977. A peer-reviewed, competitive grants program was proposed as a means of broadening the publicly funded agricultural research portfolio while also enhancing the foundational research that is indispensable for ensuring progress in the agricultural sciences and the economic sectors it serves. Since 1977, there have been several versions of competitive grant programs within USDA: Competitive Research Grants Office, National Research Initiative, Fund for Rural America, and the Initiative for Future Agricultural and Food Systems. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (referred to as the 2008 Farm Bill) replaced the National Research Initiative with the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), and outlined specific priority areas, terms, and funding allocations for the new competitive grants program. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) was also established under the 2008 Farm Bill, and was charged with administering this new competitive grants program.

SCOPE AND APPROACH TO THE REVIEW

NIFA approached the National Research Council (NRC) in 2012 requesting an evaluation of the AFRI program in its early stages of implementation. In response to the request, the NRC appointed an ad hoc committee to conduct an independent assessment of the AFRI program, including a review of the quality and value of research funded by the program and the prospects of its success in meeting established goals and outcomes (see Statement of Task in Box S-1).

The committee conducted its assessment of the AFRI program based on members’ expertise and on information collected from multiple sources. The extensive literature on the role of research and competitive grants for research in accelerating progress in the agricultural enterprise is cited throughout the report. To assess effectiveness of the program’s operations, the committee solicited information from NIFA staff about the grant management processes. In addition, the committee gathered information from individuals who contributed to the conceptualization and implementation of NIFA and AFRI, government agencies, professional societies, and grantees of AFRI. The committee used an online survey tool to solicit input broadly from researchers, academic and extension leaders, reviewers, and users and beneficiaries of AFRI, which was a mechanism for providing additional insight from the applicant community.

The committee draws conclusions about the level of scientific effort

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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BOX S-1
Statement of Task

An NRC committee will perform an independent assessment of the AFRI program, including the quality and value of research funded by the program and the prospects for its success in meeting established goals and outcomes.

The assessment will:

• Examine the value, relevance, quality, fairness, and flexibility of AFRI.

• Consider whether NIFA funding mechanisms, including the process of setting annual funding priorities, the shift to five NIFA challenge areas, and the balance between challenge area grants and foundational program grants, are appropriate for meeting AFRI’s desired goals and outcomes.

• Compare NIFA’s decision to fund fewer, higher-dollar and longer-term grants through AFRI to the former National Research Initiative (NRI) approach of funding more, lower-dollar grants, in terms of achieving desired outcomes. Include an exploration of the relationship between the length of grants and their effectiveness in terms of outcomes.

• Examine indications of whether AFRI is achieving its stated goals and outcomes. Include in these considerations how well AFRI facilitates the integration of research, extension, and education; supports food production efforts; balances fundamental and applied investments; increases foundational knowledge while facilitating translational research; and contributes to preparing the future scientific workforce.

• Identify measures of the effectiveness and efficiency of AFRI’s operation, from requests for applications and the panel review process (including the effectiveness of virtual grant review panels relative to face-to-face panels), to the awarding of grants.

• Evaluate the diversity of grant recipients and institutions that participate in the grants program, and examine the methods NIFA uses to facilitate the participation of a diversity of individuals and institutions (public and private, land-grant and non-land grant, minority).

The study also will examine AFRI’s role in advancing science in relation to other research and grant programs inside of USDA (capacity and formula grants) as well as how complementary it is to other federal R&D programs, such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy, including the effectiveness of past joint-agency grant solicitations.

The study committee will prepare a report of its assessment. In addition to its findings and conclusions, the committee will identify aspects of the implementation of AFRI that could improve how it functions and its effectiveness in meeting its goals and outcomes. The committee will not make recommendations about funding levels for AFRI; however, it may draw conclusions about the level of scientific effort supported by AFRI and the adequacy of that effort in meeting the initiative’s goals.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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supported by AFRI and the adequacy of that effort in meeting the initiative’s goals. The committee does not evaluate the quality of individual research grants, but provides a broader evaluation of the AFRI program. In reviewing the AFRI program, the committee focused its evaluation on AFRI and did not provide a detailed review of USDA’s entire research, extension, and education portfolio nor did the committee conduct a detailed comparison of AFRI to other USDA programs (intramural and extramural) and funding mechanisms (formula and competitive grants). Such an assessment of the role and importance of competitive funds relative to formula grants was beyond the scope of this study.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Need for Food and Agriculture Research

AFRI was created with the ambition of using the nation’s most creative minds in research, education, and extension to address issues fundamental to human and social well-being. AFRI supports a wide range of research goals and communities by competitive, peer-reviewed grant programs. Activities that integrate research, education, and extension in food and agriculture through a competitive process are unique to AFRI. Given the broad mandate to support nearly all components of food and agriculture, the 2008 Farm Bill established a complex set of goals within six priority areas: (1) plant health and production and plant products; (2) animal health and production and animal products; (3) food safety, nutrition, and health; (4) renewable energy, natural resources, and environment; (5) agriculture systems and technology; and (6) agriculture economics and rural communities. However, there is continued weakness in the public commitment to food and agricultural R&D which is likely to lead to “more of the same”: a steady decline in global competitiveness of U.S. food and agricultural production and an inability to respond adequately to health, sustainability, and environmental challenges in this important sector.

CONCLUSION 1: AFRI plays a critical and unique role in the nation’s overall R&D portfolio because its mandated scope, mission, and responsibilities are focused on the most important national and international challenges facing food and agriculture. But it has not been given the adequate resources needed to meet contemporary and likely future challenges. Congress established AFRI to manage and carry out research that would address complex national and multistate issues in agriculture and food. The scope, intensity, complexity, and urgency of those issues have been increasing, and

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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demands on AFRI exceed what can reasonably be expected given AFRI’s recent funding levels. When AFRI was launched in 2008, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) made program management decisions on the basis of an assumption that appropriations would grow to authorized levels over the next several years. That assumption was not borne out, and many multiyear grants encumbered future years’ appropriations. Although AFRI funding is growing, it has still not reached authorized levels.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The United States should strengthen its public investment in competitive agricultural R&D to ensure that it continues its role of a global leader in the innovations and technologies that are needed to promote health and well-being and to feed growing worldwide populations sustainably. AFRI’s prospects for success in meeting stated goals and outcomes would improve if its funding and other support elements (such as reporting structures and monitoring abilities) were commensurate with the program’s legislatively mandated scope.

Realignment of Program Structure to Match Mission, Mandate, and Budget

In attempting to understand AFRI’s mission and structure, the committee requested a NIFA organization chart of units that were affiliated with AFRI and a diagram that showed AFRI’s program structure. After several rounds of correspondence, it remained unclear to the committee how NIFA viewed AFRI’s mission, how AFRI was structured, and who had direct reporting responsibilities for grant administration. Later communications with NIFA provided a more explicit basis for understanding AFRI’s program structure with its two program areas (challenge and foundational), five challenge priority areas, six foundation priority areas, and five grant types—for which the committee concluded that the structure was unnecessarily complex.

In 2010, AFRI established the challenge-area program, which was based on a multidisciplinary approach to problem solving and required a wide array of disciplines and expertise to successfully address the most demanding, complex issues in food and agriculture. It was at this time that the large-scale Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) grants program was established to fund substantial investments in addressing key societal concerns. This high-stakes, potentially high-rewards approach for bringing about grand solutions and the impetus for moving the approach forward were based on the assumption that funding would reach authorization levels outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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While the goal of AFRI’s new challenge-area program is worthy, the size of AFRI’s budget does not allow a reasonable prospect of satisfying its congressional mandate to focus research on the six discipline areas of the 2008 Farm Bill (those areas remained the same for the 2014 Farm Bill) while adopting an ambitious grand-challenges research approach as other agencies (such as the National Science Foundation [NSF] and the National Institutes of Health [NIH]) have done. CAP grants have consumed an exceptionally large portion of AFRI’s annual appropriations. Meeting the multiyear commitments has reduced the funds available for smaller-scale, more traditional, investigator-initiated grants—a development that, not surprisingly, is associated with a reduction in the number of applicants for AFRI grants relative to AFRI’s predecessor. Emphasis on CAP grants and challenge areas has coincided with a growing year-to-year inconsistency in AFRI’s project portfolio, which is unsustainable in itself and insufficient if the various legislative mandates are to be satisfied. Such inconsistency may be one explanation for the absolute decline in AFRI grant applications. The diversion of a large proportion of resources to CAP grants and challenge areas has impaired the flexibility needed to address emergent issues.

CONCLUSION 2: AFRI is unnecessarily complex, difficult to depict clearly, and characterized by overlapping components that do not clearly align with priorities identified in authorizing legislation. Program complexity impedes the measurement of progress relative to clear goals. The multiplicity of grant types, each with its own priorities that change from year to year, contributes to a sense of programmatic inconsistency and unpredictability. Proliferation of priority areas also has resulted in AFRI’s inability to satisfy its congressional mandates.

RECOMMENDATION 2: NIFA should simplify the AFRI program structure by realigning it to more clearly address its specific mission and mandates as defined in authorizing legislation. Simplification of program structure to focus on the six foundation priority areas would improve efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency.

Rebalancing the Portfolio

AFRI’s ambitious portfolio of multiple grant types is undercutting its mission to support fundamental research, which generates critical knowledge and tools for future applications. With a large proportion of AFRI’s budget dedicated to addressing grand challenges, the focus of the program has shifted toward applied science at the expense of fundamental research.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Projects whose principal aim is the development of fundamental innovations in research, education, and extension receive less funding. The request-for-application (RFA) topics specified for foundational grants are increasingly narrow in scope and weighted toward applied research. Given its limited budget, if AFRI continues with that approach, the scientific workforce available to conduct fundamental research in the agricultural and food sciences may continue to severely diminish.

Conclusion 2-A: Fundamental research is critical to provide the knowledge base upon which future discoveries will be made, and expanding the stock of fundamental knowledge is AFRI’s primary purpose. The balance of fundamental and applied research, however, has shifted toward the applied, with extension and education components mainly included as supporting elements of research grants.

Recommendation 2-A: To realign AFRI’s portfolio with its legislative mandate, NIFA should review its priority for fundamental research. That should include an emphasis on proposals that will generate fundamental knowledge to support novel technologies, provide platforms for extension and education, and educate the next generation of food and agricultural scientists.

The Challenge-Area Program

The challenge areas are focused on five societal challenges determined by NIFA, and the foundation priority areas follow the six outlined priorities that are authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill. The challenge areas are prescriptive and focus on specific problems of interest (such as climate change), which were predetermined at the inception of the program in 2010. For that reason, the challenge areas have been perceived by the committee and the scientific community as lacking flexibility to address newly emerging problems and to incorporate rapid advances in science and technology. That is in contrast to the foundation priority areas (such as plant health and production and plant products) that are categorized by disciplines that span food and agriculture.

Conclusion 2-B: The current AFRI challenge areas are narrowly focused on specific issues, and the challenge and foundation priority areas are unnecessarily redundant.

Recommendation 2-B: As part of its realignment, AFRI should be simplified by eliminating the challenge-area program, and areas of research within the foundational program should be primarily investigator driven.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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The Decline in Applicants, Awardees, and Trainees

On the basis of the committee’s review of the number of graduate students and postdoctoral trainees supported by AFRI grants, it appears that students are increasingly being trained with funds from other federal agencies that have larger budgets. If sufficient competitive research funds are not available in agriculture for funding research and for training young scientists, researchers will seek out a larger portion of their overall support from agencies whose missions are not directly aligned with the food and agriculture sectors. In the long term, food and agriculture will lose talent to other fields of study that have stronger support.

Conclusion 2-C: The recent decline in the numbers of applicants, awardees, and trainees is a disturbing trend. It raises questions: Are scientists “following the money” and moving away from agricultural research? Are young scientists not being trained in agriculture?

Recommendation 2-C: AFRI should carefully examine the causes of the decline in the numbers of applicants, awardees, and trainees and adjust its grant programs to ensure that future generations of young scientists are not lost inadvertently from food and agriculture R&D because of funding policies.

Coordinated Agricultural Project Grants

Adjusting for the time since project initiation, there is evidence that the large project scope and complexity of these grants have resulted in fewer scholarly products (publications, papers, and presentations) per fixed amount of funding than was the case with less complex, smaller grants. High intraproject management and transaction costs required for very large projects probably have contributed to this phenomenon. The finding applies to large AFRI grants generally but especially to CAP grants. Early output data suggest that reducing the average project’s scale and scope (represented by budget and number of principal investigators [PIs], respectively) would improve the output of scholarly products, at least in early phases. The committee is not saying that large grants are inappropriate, only that its early analyses show that as the scale of grants rises, the marginal output of published papers falls over the period that was examined. The committee recognizes that high transaction costs may in some projects be more than offset by the importance of the contributions in addressing the targeted problems (e.g., multi- and transdisciplinary collaboration in the broad research community).

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Conclusion 2-D: The current AFRI appropriation cannot sustainably support the current policy of investing a disproportionate percentage of the AFRI budget on large CAP awards and simultaneously sustain a credible program of foundational, training, and Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement grants. The shift to funding fewer, higher-amount, and longer-term CAP grants also appears to have resulted in the early decreased output of scholarly products per dollar of AFRI funds invested.

Recommendation 2-D: AFRI should consider eliminating CAP grants as a grant category and committing more resources to other grant types.

Strategy and Collaboration

AFRI’s research, extension, and education portfolio is appropriately targeted to meeting the nation’s food and agricultural needs. However, its success depends on the generation of fundamental knowledge and the flow of new knowledge generated by other federally funded and private-sector research. AFRI can maximize its impact and resources by collaborating with other federal agencies and by strategically aligning its research with congressional mandates that target the highest-priority needs of the food and agriculture sectors.

CONCLUSION 3: AFRI does not have clearly articulated plans to guide its priority setting, management processes, and interagency collaboration. To evaluate AFRI’s success it is critical to define goals and outcomes and thus enable the assessment of progress in meeting them. NIFA provided the committee with several documents that described a roadmap explaining how the challenge areas were developed to take into consideration the societal challenges outlined in the National Research Council New Biology report and pointed to individual RFAs for specific goals in each of the priority areas. But it did not provide a statement of overall goals, time frames for meeting them, or planned outcomes for assessing progress. For the purpose of the present review the committee assumed that the goals of AFRI were synonymous with those stated in the 2008 Farm Bill which were unchanged in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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RECOMMENDATION 3: AFRI should develop a strategic plan that identifies priorities for its overall program goals for meeting them and a framework for assessing the program’s progress. Such a plan is critical for providing program continuity, consistency, and predictability. A strategic plan would include a clear vision statement and strategies for implementing priorities. To develop a strategic plan, NIFA could revisit the intent of AFRI and broadly define acceptable topics so that AFRI programs can achieve greater flexibility. The plan could include less restrictive RFAs for which PIs can propose unconventional ideas and take more flexible approaches to the six broad priority areas mandated by the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills.

Interagency Collaboration

Several other federal agencies—such as NSF, NIH, and the Department of Energy (DOE)—provide grants and conduct research in subjects tangentially related to food and agriculture, but USDA is the only federal agency whose mission is aimed directly at food and agriculture. To further USDA’s mission and to leverage the efforts of sister agencies, USDA will need to take on a greater leadership role in coordinating research efforts across agencies.

Conclusion 3-A: Interagency efforts directed at food and agriculture need to be more strategic, more robust, and better coordinated across federal agencies.

Recommendation 3-A: NIFA and USDA should lead interagency efforts to effectively coordinate and collaborate across agencies on food and agricultural research.

External Advisory Council

Unlike NIH and NSF, AFRI does not have a formal, external, and strictly scientific advisory council. Such a council would be highly valuable for the following functions of the AFRI program: to guide, advise on, review, and assess on an ongoing basis priority setting, resource allocation, program policies, and peer-review and award-management processes. NIH and NSF each have advisory groups on which NIFA could model its AFRI Scientific Advisory Council.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Conclusion 3-B: AFRI needs an external advisory council to validate its strategic direction and to provide valuable guidance to national program leaders (NPLs) on programmatic decisions.

Recommendation 3-B: NIFA should form an AFRI Scientific Advisory Council that consists of members who represent the food and agricultural research, education, and extension professional communities.

Program Management

The AFRI program structure is unnecessarily complicated and is characterized by an elusive chain of command, and this complexity and lack of transparency has led to inefficient program management and operation. Given the goal of setting up the new program, developing program priorities, and balancing its portfolio to satisfy its congressional mandate, the committee expected that NIFA leadership would provide higher visibility for the program. AFRI is a program within NIFA that appears to be orphaned in that there is no clear line of leadership, strategy, and policy.

CONCLUSION 4: AFRI’s complex and diffuse management structure has made it difficult to efficiently and effectively manage the program. AFRI has many stakeholders it needs to be responsive to: Congress, the administration, various producer groups and interests, numerous scientific disciplinary interests, and consumers. AFRI also needs to more explicitly track—and track for longer periods—the outcomes and contributions of the research that it funds.

RECOMMENDATION 4: To enhance program accountability and management, AFRI should have a dedicated leader who manages the program on a daily basis. Improved processes and procedures should be created for transparency, and AFRI’s NPLs should be granted greater authority and flexibility to meet stated goals.

Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Director

Conclusion 4-A: AFRI is managed collectively by many people. No single administrator is responsible for overall program management or accountable for AFRI’s performance.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Recommendation 4-A: NIFA should establish a clearer organizational structure and lines of authority for AFRI, including a designated director to lead, manage, and speak for its program, and NPLs dedicated to AFRI alone.

Program Continuity and Transparency

For foundational programs, the committee received comments from applicants and panel managers that the highly prescriptive nature of RFAs discourages submission of innovative ideas. Paperwork was also long and burdensome for applicants. Furthermore, research priorities were often not communicated in a timely manner, resulting in unnecessarily extended lags between grant cycles. AFRI’s success will be determined in large part by how well the program attracts the best ideas from a broad community of qualified researchers in an array of disciplines.

Conclusion 4-B: The AFRI applicant community expressed frustration with the lack of continuity in the program offereings from one year to the next, which has resulted in the community’s inability to plan, resubmit unsuccessful proposals, and renew successful projects.

Recommendation 4-B: NIFA should have a more consistent and predictable program portfolio and funding strategy to enable better planning by the food and agricultural research community.

Data Management

Data are needed to inform management decisions and improve assessments of program efficiency and effectiveness. NIFA was unable to provide the committee with data needed for addressing many aspects of the committee’s tasks as some of the data had not been collected and some were internally inconsistent or could not be easily interpreted or summarized. One aspect that the committee was specifically tasked to examine was diversity of people and institutions supported by AFRI. AFRI does not collect additional data that would enable a robust assessment of the diversity of program applicants or awardees. On the basis of data on awarded projects, the committee found that AFRI is awarding grants to public and private institutions and to land-grant universities and non–land-grant universities in nearly the same ratios as did the former NRI program and approximately in proportion to the number of proposals emanating from such institutions.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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The Current Research Information System (CRIS)1 used by NIFA was not designed as a tool for managing competitive funds and is an inadequate aid for program-management decisions: it is difficult to navigate and manipulate for programmatic needs and not readily compatible with other systems. AFRI needs an information-management system that can provide the accurate information that is necessary for structured analyses of program activities and for analyzing and assessing project and programmatic outputs and outcomes. Conducting performance analyses will require systematic attention to medium-term and long-term outputs and, more importantly, projection of outcomes in the form of the science influenced, social and individual well-being, and products and incomes generated.

Conclusion 4-C: The AFRI program lacks a sufficiently robust information-management system and metrics for measuring key program impacts.

Recommendation 4-C: NIFA should use a more robust information-management system that would provide a basis for AFRI policy and strategic planning. The system should allow detailed assessment and management of the food and agricultural competitive research funding pool.

Post-Award Management

Project-output assessment affords only one perspective on the performance of AFRI. Some valuable benefits and contributions of the program cannot be captured by assessments of program outputs alone. Examples of the other benefits are outcomes such as AFRI’s role in encouraging graduate students and young scientists to develop careers in food and agriculture, its role in advancing the quality of agriculture and food science and in increasing the knowledge base, and its contributions to the innovations that underpin economic development. Appropriate changes are needed to give NPLs the time and resources needed to provide a higher level of post-award management (including post-termination monitoring) designed to ensure that grants reach the most successful conclusions and outcomes attainable.

Conclusion 4-D: NIFA needs clearly defined metrics for measuring program outputs and outcomes that allow program managers to assess the value of AFRI-funded research.

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1As of the writing of this report, the committee is aware of USDA’s plans to retire CRIS and to replace it with another reporting system.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Recommendation 4-D: NIFA should develop the capability to regularly evaluate AFRI projects in terms of their outcomes, which would allow assessment of the economic and social impacts of the research that AFRI supports.

Greater Authority for National Program Leaders

The committee noted several ways in which NPLs were constrained in participating in funding decisions that would allow a better portfolio balance to align with AFRI’s mission and goals. For example, funding decisions are typically based solely on peer-reviewed rankings without consideration of the funding portfolio’s programmatic balance. That continues to occur despite NIFA’s policy that reviewers’ comments are advisory and not binding. Funding allocations to program areas are set before the award decision-making process, and this can limit the ability of NPLs to capitalize on innovative ideas presented in proposals and to pursue the most promising scientific opportunities. NPLs are PhD-level scientists in good standing in their own disciplinary communities who were recruited to manage AFRI grants on the basis of their scientific credentials, and they should be trusted to exercise their professional judgment. With such new responsibilities, the portfolios of AFRI NPLs would need to be rebalanced to allow proper attention to programmatic direction and post-award scientific management. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) would also need to include a mechanism for training new NPLs and panel managers.

Conclusion 4-E: In their project-funding decisions, NPLs are tasked to ensure that a maximum number of high-priority issues are addressed and that funded projects align maximally with program goals. Yet NPLs have been unnecessarily constrained in their efforts to manage and balance the AFRI portfolio.

Recommendation 4-E: NIFA should establish SOPs that provide greater opportunity for NPLs to contribute to final project-funding decisions.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

During the time the committee was conducting its review, Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill and appropriated an increase in funding for AFRI in FY 2014. The reauthorization of the Farm Bill did not change the priorities for AFRI, reaffirming the importance of this program to sustain the nation’s preeminence in knowledge generation and technology advances in the food and agricultural sectors. However, the 2014 Farm Bill contained a provision requiring non–land-grant universities to match funds for AFRI

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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grants. This approach is counterproductive to the goal of attracting the broadest array of the nation’s top scientific talent to research and to bringing nontraditional and novel approaches and solutions for food and agricultural challenges. In the future, NIFA should acquire data to determine the impact of this requirement on non–land-grant entities participating in the AFRI program.

NIFA and its AFRI program are essential elements of USDA and will be critical for enhancing the knowledge base needed to successfully address important issues in agriculture, food, and natural resources. The increase in FY 2014 appropriations for this flagship competitive research program is consistent with this report’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations and suggests that USDA has a window of opportunity to establish NIFA as a strong science agency with AFRI at its core and to reinforce the value and mission of AFRI to the nation’s well-being. The committee offers its recommendations in the hope that the suggested programmatic changes will enable NIFA to fulfill its mission of leading the food and agricultural sectors to a better future through research, education, and extension.

Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Research Council. 2014. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture: A Review of the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Program. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18652.
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The United States embarked on bold polices to enhance its food and agricultural system during the last half of the 19th century, investing first in the education of people and soon thereafter in research and discovery programs aimed at acquiring new knowledge needed to address the complex challenges of feeding a growing and hungry nation. Those policies, sustained over 125 years, have produced the most productive and efficient agricultural and food system in history.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the primary agency responsible for supporting innovations and advances in food and agriculture. USDA funds are allocated to support research through several mechanisms, including the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). In 2008, Congress replaced USDA's National Research Initiative with AFRI, creating USDA's flagship competitive research grants program, and the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, known as the Farm Bill, outlined the structure of the new program. Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture assesses the effectiveness of AFRI in meeting the goals laid out by Congress and its success in advancing innovations and competitiveness in the U.S. food and agriculture system.

Spurring Innovation in Food and Agriculture evaluates the value, relevance, quality, fairness, and flexibility of AFRI. This report also considers funding policies and mechanisms and identifies measures of the effectiveness and efficiency of AFRI's operation. The study examines AFRI's role in advancing science in relation to other research and grant programs inside of USDA as well as how complementary it is to other federal research and development programs. The findings and conclusions of this report will help AFRI improve its functions and effectiveness in meeting its goals and outcomes.

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