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USDA-FFAR Innovation Challenge

Open Opportunity

USDA-FFAR Innovation Challenge: “Nourishing Next Generation Agrifood Breakthroughs” Request for Applications (RFA)

Program Contact

Dr. LaKisha Odom
lodom@foundationfar.org

Dr. John Rothlisberger
john.rothlisberger@usda.gov

Grants Team

grants@foundationfar.org


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About the USDA-FFAR Innovation Challenge: “Nourishing Next Generation Agrifood Breakthroughs”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) are seeking research proposals for a funding opportunity that will drive innovations at the intersection of human health, climate-smart agriculture, and social justice, equity, and opportunity to advance nutrition security. The “Nourishing Next Generation Agrifood Breakthroughs” Innovation Challenge will fund early-career scientists (within 10 years of receiving a Ph.D. or equivalent degree) to lead highly collaborative, interdisciplinary teams on groundbreaking research that addresses nutrition security.

The “Nourishing Next Generation Agrifood Breakthroughs” Innovation Challenge is awarding up to a total of $2 million to:

  • Identify and support dynamic and disruptive technologies in nutrition security that align with the USDA Science and Research Strategy, 2023 – 2026: Cultivating Scientific Innovation (USDA’s S&RS)
  • Stimulate new professional interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary relationships and connections in service to agricultural innovation aligned with nutrition security
  • Integrate themes of human health, climate-smart agriculture, and social equity, justice and opportunity
  • Leverage existing, unconnected resources in novel ways

Successful applicants are strongly encouraged to describe their plans for stakeholder engagement methods that involve a wide range of people and communities to inform and disseminate their research.

Proposed projects should also demonstrate the following characteristics:

  1. Contribute to one or more of the following goals:
    • Develop and deploy advanced solutions to prevent, prepare and protect against threats to U.S. agriculture and food
    • Overcome barriers to the development of agricultural technologies, research tools and qualified products and projects that enhance export competitiveness, environmental sustainability and climate resiliency
    • Ensure that the U.S. remains a leader in developing and deploying agricultural technologies, research tools and qualified projects and products that increase economic opportunities and security for farmers, ranchers and rural communities
  2. Accelerate disruptive innovation that is aligned with USDA’s S&RS.
    For this RFA, disruptive innovation may take one or more of the following forms:

    • Radical Innovation
    • Applied Innovation
    • Re-imagined Innovation
  3. Be consistent with FFAR’s Priority Areas.

Matching funds are encouraged for this funding opportunity. Funding will be provided for up to four grants that range between $350,000 and $500,000. Awardees will also have access to networking opportunities with USDA and FFAR scientists and leaders.

 

View Webinar Recordings

Below is a recording of our July 10th applicant Q&A webinar.

 

 

Below is a recording of our June 13th informational webinar about this funding opportunity.

Application Guidelines

Am I eligible to apply?

Applications are welcome from all domestic and international higher education institutions, nonprofit and for profit organizations, and government-affiliated research agencies.

Eligible Institutions 

Any individual(s) with the skills, knowledge and resources necessary to perform the proposed research as Program Director(s)/Principal Investigator(s) may apply through their home institution or organization. 

The primary applicant (i.e., team lead) must be an early-career scientist. For the purposes of this award, early-career scientist is defined as an individual who has received their Ph.D. within the last 10 years. 

In keeping with goals to reach a diverse and broad range of institutions and individuals who participate in its programs, the following types of higher education institutions are highly encouraged to apply: 

  • Hispanic-serving Institutions 
  • 1890s Land Grant Institutions and other Historically Black Colleges and Universities 
  • Tribal Colleges and Universities 
  • Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions 
  • Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions

Eligible Individuals 

Team leaders must be near the onset of their independent research career (i.e., within ten (10) years of receiving a Ph.D. or equivalent degree).  

Recognizing that agriculture and food sciences are highly complex, requiring individuals from a variety of disciplines to realize the potential in each field or research area. Collaborators are essential for success, particularly for early-career researchers. 

As this Challenge places priority on fostering new professional interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary relationships and connections in service to agricultural innovation, applications must also describe the membership of the research team that will be funded. Successful teams will both conduct proposed projects and develop and explore innovative conceptual models to discover and articulate high-risk, high-reward future research opportunities to improve nutrition security.

While this award will be made to an outstanding early-career scientist as the team lead/principal investigator, applicants should include information regarding team members and any essential collaborators and include letters of support from those team members and collaborators. In these letters, the team members and collaborators should comment on the potential of the team lead to achieve success.

How do I apply for this funding opportunity?

Full proposals must be submitted by the deadline date through FFAR’s online application Grant Management System. Applications submitted outside of this System will not be considered. 

To start a new application, please click here. If you are a new user, register for an account by clicking “Create Account” button located under the email address field on the left side of the home page. Once you log in, you may begin working on your application. Please be sure to save your work often by clicking on “Save and Finish Later.”

To access a saved application, please do so through your Grant Management Account

Only submissions received by the deadline through FFAR’s Grant Management System will be accepted and considered eligible for evaluation. To be fair to all applicants, FFAR will not grant extensions to applicants who missed the deadlines posted in the Key Dates section.

Only applications submitted by the deadline through FFAR’s Grant Management System will be accepted and considered eligible for evaluation. To be fair to all our applicants, FFAR will not grant extensions to applicants who missed the deadlines posted in the Key Dates section.

What do I need to include in my application?

Applicants must submit the application for funding using FFAR’S Grant Management System. All application materials provided will be treated as confidential, except for the 3-minute narrated video abstracts requested below. These video abstracts may be shared with the public and should not contain confidential information. All applications will be evaluated according to the criteria below. The most promising applicants will be invited to make a presentation and participate in an interview via video teleconference with the Innovation Challenge Steering Committee. Only applicants who submit a full application and are then invited to do so will be presenting to the Innovation Challenge Steering Committee. 

Full Application Components

Required Components:

  • Project title(up to 250 characters)
  • Program Director or Principal Investigator (name, affiliation, contact information)
  • Key project personnel – name(s), affiliation, expertise, project role
  • Location/s of performance
  • Video Abstract (3 minutes or less) presented as a pre-recorded, narrated slide presentation consisting of three slides that (1) describe the project and the challenges it addresses, (2) propose disruptive solutions, and (3) expound on the potential impact if successful.
  • Project Description and Approach (up to 1,500 words total).
    • What challenge or existing paradigm is the project addressing? 
    • What are the underlying research hypotheses?  
    • How do the proposed innovative conceptual models discover and articulate high-risk, high-reward future research opportunities to improve nutrition security?
    • How does the proposed project or conceptual model incorporate themes of nutrition and health, climate-smart agriculture, and social equity, justice, and opportunity?
    • How will the project support disruptive innovative research?    How will the project solve challenges to food supply, optimized nutrition, or sustainable agriculture?
    • How does this project leverage existing resources that are currently unconnected in novel and creative ways? 
    • How do you plan to design a convening that will inform your project and/or disseminate your findings?
    • List any committed or potential partners; Applications must describe the membership of the research team that will be funded. 
  • Data management plan (up to 250 words)
  • Organization Assurances
  • Budget narrative: Provide a brief overview of how the funds will be used to develop innovations in nutrition security that integrate human health, climate, and equity. (up to 500 words)
  • Budget justification by year (up to 250 words)

Required Attachments: Failure to provide these attachments will result in the application’s disqualification.

  • Pre-recorded, narrated three-slide summary or description of the project. 
  • Current and Pending Support Form: complete for everyone listed as P.I. or Key personnel on the project.
  • References Cited, which will not count toward total word limit. 
  • P.I. and Key Personnel Bio sketch: five-page limit per individual listed as P.I. or key personnel in the project.
  • Supporting figures, tables, graphics, or equations, which will not count towards the total word limit. 
  • Letters of Support from Partners

Optional Attachments:

  • Additional Key Personnel
  • Matching Fund Verification Letter(s) (if applicable)
What is the review process for this funding opportunity?

Submitted applications undergo an internal review by a technical peer review team comprised of federal and non-federal subject matter experts to assess if the project is relevant to the RFA and demonstrates the potential to meet the evaluation criteria. Applicants must be invited and submit an application to be eligible for an invitation to present to the Innovation Challenge Steering Committee.

All Innovation Challenge Steering Committee members and any external reviewers who may be invited to participate in the review process must agree and adhere to the terms outlined in FFAR’s Conflict of Interest Policy and Non-Disclosure Agreement. FFAR makes reasonable efforts to ensure that applications are not assigned to reviewers with a real or apparent conflict with the applicant, institution, or project personnel. Reviewers with a conflict of interest are recused from evaluating or participating in related discussions. Each stage of the review is conducted confidentially, and as such, FFAR and the Innovation Challenge Steering Committee are responsible for protecting the confidentiality of the contents of the applications, except for the narrated video abstracts/3-slide presentations which may be shared publicly.

How will my application be evaluated?

All applications will be screened for relevance, accuracy, completeness and compliance with the guidelines stated in this RFA. 

These include the following:

Novelty, Innovation, and Originality (40%)

  • Does the proposed project innovatively address in an integrated manner the three USDA research priority areas? 
  • Does the proposal challenge an existing paradigm(s) in food and agriculture science and propose a disruptive solution? 

Impacts and Outcomes (30%)

  • Does the proposal adequately describe its potential, significant impact and applied relevance to U.S food and agriculture systems, with far-reaching, global impacts? 
  • Will the investigators be able to apply their results beyond the study location and domain?
  • Does the proposal present a plan for disseminating the project outcomes? 
  • How will the designed convening add value to the overall work?
  • Will results have relevance and reach to underrepresented and diverse communities of agricultural producers? 

Technical Merit and Feasibility (20%)

  • Does the proposal clearly outline the goals, objectives, and a workplan to evaluate explicitly stated hypotheses? 
  • Does the proposal include appropriately thorough and feasible methods? 
  • Does the proposal present a tractable timeline and budget narrative?  
  • Does the proposal include adequate risk evaluation and a mitigation plan?
  • Does the proposal include an adequate data management plan with a commitment to public access? 
  • Is the research team qualified and have access to the appropriate field and laboratory facilities?

Partnerships and Team (10%) 

  • Does the project present a compelling and novel partnership opportunity?
  • Is the team interdisciplinary and/or transdisciplinary and does it leverage diverse backgrounds and skill sets? 
  • Does the proposal include adequate confirmation of partner commitment(s)?
How will I be notified if my project is selected for funding?

Following the full application review process, the Principal Investigator/Program Director and the authorized organization representative (AOR) listed on the project will be officially notified by email of the status of the application. If an application is selected for funding, the Innovation Challenge Steering Committee reserves the right to request additional or clarifying information for any reason deemed necessary. Potential grantees are free to accept or reject the Grant Agreement as offered.

FFAR notifies applicants of their awards by email. The notice does not constitute an award or obligatory funding from FFAR until there is a fully executed Grant Agreement. FFAR encourages applicants to review a sample Grant Agreement before applying to ensure they know the terms under which grants are offered.

Am I required to secure matching funds?

Matching funds are encouraged, but not required, for this funding opportunity. If the applicant provides matching funds, the applicant agrees to identify and certify matching funds annually before disbursement of award funds. The match share is intended to supplement, not supplant existing funding for the principal investigator (PI). The applicant will abide by FFAR’s Matching Funds Guidelines to meet FFAR’s matching requirements. To constitute a valid match, all matching funds on a FFAR grant must be expended during the grant period.

What are the grant terms and conditions?

FFAR expects applicants to have reviewed the Sample Grant Agreement before applying to ensure that the applicants are aware of the applicable terms under which the grant is offered. Successful applicants are strongly encouraged to sign the Grant Agreement as presented.

What is the post-award management process?

Interim Reports: The grantee must provide a six-month update on activities and project accomplishments to date.

Annual Reporting Requirements: The grantee must provide annual scientific and financial update progress reports. The annual reports should include activities performed with award funding, highlighting project accomplishments. The report format will be communicated closer to the due date.

Final Report Requirements: Within 90 days of completing the project, the grantee shall provide a final project report. This report should address the project objectives outlined in the original grant application, describe any modifications to the project objectives and scope, describe the final project accomplishments, and include a final project accounting of all grant funds. Publication and data-sharing should be addressed as outlined in the RFA.

Scientific Integrity: FFAR strives to advance knowledge and the application of science to address challenges related to sustainable agriculture. FFAR’s ability to pursue its objective depends on the integrity of the funded science projects. All FFAR grants must be conducted with the highest standards of scientific integrity.

Who should I contact for assistance?

For questions related to the online submission system, please contact FFAR’s Grant Management team at grants@foundationfar.org.

For other questions related to the “Nourishing Next Generation Agrifood Breakthroughs” Innovation Challenge, please email Dr. LaKisha Odom  lodom@foundationfar.org (and/or Dr. John Rothlisberger at  john.rothlisberger@usda.gov). We only accept scientific or programmatic and grants inquiries by email. 

On June 13, FFAR and USDA will host an information webinar about this funding opportunity. The webinar recording will be added to this webpage to further explain and promote the Innovation Challenge. 

FFAR strives to respond to inquiries within two business days, but our response time depends on the volume of questions received and the complexity of the questions asked. Please note that we do not monitor mailboxes on evenings, weekends or federal holidays.