USDA announces I-FAST prize competition

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA, is announcing the I-FAST prize competition to develop and implement the Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) program. NIFA will partner with NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) to provide entrepreneurship training to NIFA grantees under this pilot program. The goals are to identify valuable product opportunities that can emerge from NIFA supported academic research. Over six months, the selected teams will learn what it will take to achieve an economic impact with their particular innovation. The final goal of the competition is to facilitate technology transfer of innovations that can make an impact in the marketplace.

USDA, NSF partner to support innovation in food, agricultural S&T

In partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the Innovations in Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (I-FAST) prize competition. I-FAST prizes will provide entrepreneurship training to National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) supported academic research with the goal of facilitating the technology transfer of valuable food and agricultural related product opportunities. NIFA will commit $400,000 to support up to eight prizes. I-FAST pre-applications are due September 8, 2017.

Senate Appropriations advances FY 2018 spending bills, would fund Regional Innovation at $21 million

Over the past week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations has passed bills to fund commerce and science, transportation, energy and water and agriculture. Regional Innovation Strategies would be funded at $21 million, an increase of $4 million over FY 2017. Other innovation proposals received mixed support, as the Senate cut $3.2 billion from commerce, justice and science funding and another $400 million from agriculture.

US House appropriations bills would make major cuts to innovation

The House Appropriations Committee began releasing FY 2018 “markup” budget bills this week, and the proposals would cut billions in non-defense spending. EDA would lose $100 million* in funding, SBA’s entrepreneurial development programs would lose $34 million, NIST’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership would lose $30 million, and Energy’s ARPA-E would be eliminated, among other cuts. As SSTI noted for both the administration’s proposed FY 2017 and FY 2018 budgets, congressional statements rejecting the president’s total budget package did not necessarily make innovation safe.

USDA reorganization of Rural Development concerns supporters

While U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has announced that the Rural Development agency would be elevated under a reorganization plan because it would be placed under the direct oversight of the Secretary, not everyone is viewing the consolidation as an elevation. The reorganization plan details efforts to “improve the effectiveness of USDA efforts” and includes plans to realign the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service under a newly created Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. While the report states that the reorganization will elevate Rural Development (RD), in the process it loses its own undersecretary. The USDA Office of Communications, in response to an SSTI request for clarification of the change, responded: “The agencies contained within Rural Development will remain as currently constituted and be led by the Assistant to the Secretary, who will have rural prosperity as a sole focus. Rural Development is gaining power, access, and direct influence. Secretary Perdue is a son of rural America and believes fully that this is an increase in stature for rural issues at USDA.”

Highlights from the President's FY 2018 Budget Request: Dept. of Agriculture

Unless otherwise noted, all FY 2018 figures are from the department’s budget justification, and all FY 2017 figures are from committee reports for the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017.

Budget deal supports innovation, research

Congress has passed a budget for FY 2017 that largely continues support for federal innovation programs and R&D investments. Among the highlights are $17 million for Regional Innovation Strategies (a $2 million increase over FY 2016), level funding of $130 million for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership and $5 million for SBA’s clusters program. In reviewing dozens of line items, offices that had received significant cuts in the White House’s skinny budget appear to receive some of the largest funding increases (such as the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Development Block Grant and ARPA-E). However, with the exception of multi-billion dollar increases for Department of Defense R&D, many increases are rather small in terms of overall dollars. This is, at least in part, a reflection of non-defense spending caps rising by only $40 million for FY 2017, limiting the availability of new funds. In this context, science and innovation gains are particularly impressive, with a five percent overall increase for federal R&D that particularly benefits NASA and NIH.

USDA Research Yields New Inventions

Mosquito-resistant uniforms for U.S. military personnel and a bio-refinery that turned a city landfill into an “energy park” are two new developments resulting from investments in scientific research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  The USDA Annual Report on Technology Transfer for FY 2015 includes new agriculture-related discoveries, inventions and processes made by USDA researchers, universities and small businesses with the potential for commercial application. Their work encompasses 222 new inventions, 94 patents awarded and 125 new patent applications filed in 2015.

USDA Announces Launch of $100M Rural Business Investment Company

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the launch of the McLarty Capital Partners’ Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC) – a new private investment fund with the potential to inject $100 million into growth-oriented, small businesses across rural America. As the fifth RBIC to launch since 2014, McLarty Capital Partners’ RBIC is part of the Made in Rural America initiative, an ongoing effort by the Obama administration to attract private sector capital to investment opportunities in rural America and drive more economic growth in rural communities.

USDA Announces $11M for Rural Broadband, NTIA Releases Roadmap Toolkit

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced last month the availability of more than $11 million in grants to support rural broadband through its Community Connect grant program, which seeks to help fund broadband deployment into rural communities where it is not yet economically viable for private sector providers to deliver service. For FY 2016, the minimum grant amount is $100,000, while the maximum award is $3 million. Additional information can be found here. Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has released new materials to help communities realize the importance of broadband and develop roadmaps for its broader implementation.


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