AFRI Annual Review Funding Portfolio

Fiscal year 2015

The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) is NIFA’s flagship competitive grants program. The purpose of AFRI is to support research, education, and extension work that address key problems of national and regional importance in sustaining all components of food and agriculture. AFRI is authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill and supports work in 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) bioenergy, natural resources and environment; 5) agriculture systems and technology; and 6) agriculture economics and rural communities.

In FY 2015, AFRI received $325,000,000 to administer and support basic and applied research, education, and extension programs (Table 1). These programs expanded our existing investments and created new opportunities to address the food and agricultural sciences. Due to the type of funds AFRI receives, the program can continue to expend funds until they are all applied to scientific projects; therefore, all funds may not be obligated in one year. However, AFRI has a scientifically-based annual approach to the expenditures of all funds to support the challenges of food and agriculture.

Over the past five years (Figure 1), AFRI has received $1,445,917,906 to advance research, education, and extension activities. This level of investment shows a gradual upward trend in funding, representing a 23 percent increase in funding from $264,470,000 in 2011 to $325,000,000 in 2015.

NIFA works continuously to ensure the public understands the relationship between the AFRI portfolio and the six Farm Bill priorities. While it is easy to see the relationship within the Foundational programs, the Challenge Areas and Fellowships programs aren’t as obvious. Therefore, a breakout of the expended funds (Figure 2) to date is shows the multiple disciplinary work of the entire AFRI program.

AFRI offers Food and Agricultural Science Enhancement (FASE) grants (Table 6) to enhance institutional capacity and attract new scientists into careers of high-priority areas of national need in agriculture, food, and environmental sciences. FASE grants provide support for postdoctoral fellowships; new investigators; and project directors at small, mid-sized, or minority-serving institutions with limited institutional success or at degree-granting institutions and state agricultural experiment stations in states where institutions have been less successful in receiving AFRI funding (NIFA identifies these states as Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research states). In FY 2015, approximately 14 percent of AFRI funds supported FASE grants.



While most AFRI program areas do not request letters of intent (LOIs), 624 were submitted for consideration. Scientific program staff review LOIs in order to plan for the appropriate expertise on peer review panels. In addition, assessing LOIs ensures that proposed projects fit appropriately within AFRI program area priorities. FY 2015 was the seventh year that AFRI solicited competitive grant applications; 37 programs solicited applications that year addressing the six AFRI priority areas and six challenge areas. A total of 2,694 competitive grant applications, requesting $1,793,235,471, were received and reviewed through a competitive peer review process (Table 2). An additional 884 proposals were recommended—rated as Outstanding, High Priority, and/or Medium Priority—for funding by review panels and could have been supported, provided an additional $689,574,878 was available to the program.

More than 545 experts from across the country participated in peer review panel evaluations to help select the most meritorious projects for funding (Table 3). AFRI ensures the widest participation of qualified individuals in peer review by balancing the membership of panels carefully to reflect diversity in geographical region, type of institution, type of position, gender, and minority status. Additional expertise was brought to proposal evaluation by a number of scientists and other specialists through ad hoc reviews.

Awards totaling $280,747,198 were made to the 569 highest-ranked applications distributed across the program (Table 4).

The success rate for AFRI applications in FY 2015, calculated in terms of number of proposals funded (excluding conferences, supplements, continuing increments of the same grant, and NIFA Fellowships) divided by the number of proposals submitted for review, was 17 percent.


AFRI awards are made in the form of single-function research; single-function education; single-function extension; and integrated research, education, and/or extension grants (Table 5). The mean award size for research projects was $450,527 for up to five years, excluding FASE grants and Conference grants. These excluded grant types are often shorter in duration and have lower budget limitations than do standard research awards. The average award for integrated projects was $932,231 for up to five years, excluding FASE grants and Conference grants. AFRI provided funds totaling $683,188 in support of 27 Conference grants. These conferences brought scientists together to identify research, education, and extension priorities; provide an update on research information; and/or advance an area of science important to U.S. agriculture, food, forestry, the environment, and rural communities. Forty-eight percent of AFRI awards support fundamental research to deliver basic knowledge to advance applied research and conceptual breakthroughs in fields relevant to agriculture. Mission-linked awards accounted for the remaining 52percent to fund applied work to address specific problems, needs, or opportunities. Multidisciplinary awards encourage collaborations between institutions, agencies, and fields of study to solve complex problems and seek to initiate research in new areas of science and engineering that are relevant to agriculture, food, forestry, the environment, and rural communities. Multi-disciplinary teams conducted 73 percent of the AFRI awards made in 2015.


AFRI engages a broad range of entities including land-grant universities (1862, 1890, and 1994), public non-land grant universities, private colleges and universities, private research foundations, federal institutions, individuals, and industry. A breakdown of submitted applications, funded applications, and FY 2015 dollars awarded is available by institution type (Table 8).


Competitive grants administered by AFRI provide jobs to train the next generation of agricultural professionals. In 2015, AFRI provided funding for more than 1,910 students and post-doctorates for more than 1,868 years, cumulatively (Table 9).


AFRI makes awards that span several topics of major importance to USDA. Table 7 includes the crosscutting areas, number of awards, and total amount of funding for each area.