Sonny Ramaswamy, the director of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, addressed faculty at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute on May 24 in a presentation and discussion session entitled, “NIFA Priorities and How Virginia Tech Can Contribute to Federal Initiatives.” As part of USDA’s research, education, and extension mission, Ramaswamy oversees NIFA awards funds for a wide range of extramural research, education, and extension projects that address the needs of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural producers.
His talk began with a brief synopsis of the USDA’s history and how the establishment of land-grant university systems coincided with key historical dates in the nation’s history — most significantly after the abolishment of slavery.
The other major points of Ramaswamy’s discussion focused on how faculty and researchers could work more collaboratively with NIFA. Ramaswamy suggested that researchers and other potential grantees consider the six priority areas of NIFA when preparing grant applications. The priorities run the gamut from human health and nutrition to energy to agriculture technology, including:
- 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
- Agriculture economics and rural communities
Another point that Ramaswamy emphasized to increase collaboration between NIFA and potential Virginia Tech grantees was the need for research to demonstrate a societal impact.
“Our DNA — yours and mine — is about science with a purpose,” he said of the similar missions of both NIFA and Virginia Tech.
Despite the recent news of sequestration budget slashes, Ramaswamy’s message was ultimately positive for researchers. Larger organizations like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health experienced budget increases only in the single digits for FY 2014, he said.
However, his competitive grant program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, experienced a 30% increase from $267 million to $383 million in the presidential budget.