Microgrants for Research in Urban Agriculture and Hydroponics and Aquaponics

From the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture:

This is an alert to the availability of some research and development funding from the PA Department of Agriculture to support practice-driven research on problems related to urban agriculture (item i) and hydroponics and aquaponics (item h). These microgrants require a practitioner and a researcher getting together to address ways to solve a problem that has confronted the practitioner, attempting to solve the problem, writing up the results, and sharing it with our urban agriculture and hydroponic and aquaponics networks.

You may also be interested in the request for entities to develop proposals for microcredentials or badges (item f).

Due date is Jan. 26, 2018

The request for proposals was published in the PA Bulletin. (available below):

Agricultural Research Project Contractors
[47 Pa.B. 7862]
[Saturday, December 30, 2017]
 The Department of Agriculture (Department) is soliciting applications to conduct agricultural research on one or more of the following research topic areas, with the research to be conducted from July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, with the possibility (but not the assurance) of extending that research into subsequent years.

 This notice establishes the procedures by which grant applications will be solicited and reviewed, and by which grants will be awarded.

 1. Grant Solicitation. The Department will be accepting grant applications for the purposes, in the form and according to the schedule set forth as follows. Additional publication and dissemination of this notice shall be made to applicants who have previously submitted grant applications to or received grants from the Department as well as any individuals or entities who have requested notification from the Department of grant availability.

 2. Research Topic Areas. The research topics the Department is interested in funding are as follows:

 a. Ongoing Multiyear Research Projects. The Department has, in previous years, provided funding for various multiyear research projects that might be continued or extended to complete research the Department identifies as addressing continued priorities of the agricultural industry. The Department will consider proposals to continue supporting previously funded research.

 b. Spotted Lanternfly. Spotted lanternfly, Lycorma delicatula, was detected in this Commonwealth 3 years ago, and quickly established itself as a damaging pest in neighborhoods, forests and agricultural settings. As with any new invasive species, significant knowledge gaps exist in understanding of the pest and its potential effects on this Commonwealth. The Department will consider research proposals that address basic and applied research on spotted lanternfly, with priority given to proposals that analyze the pest’s economic impacts on agriculture, general commerce and communities, on integrated pest management strategies for agricultural commodities of importance to this Commonwealth and on basic biological research that will allow us to develop more sophisticated, cost-effective and environmentally-low-impact control strategies.

 c. Farm Safety. There is an extant body of research on the efficacy of practices and technologies to preserve the safety of farmers engaged in production agriculture. Despite this knowledge, adoption of these practices and technologies remains limited, threatening the lives and livelihoods of farmers. The Department will accept research proposals for a behavioral study of what makes a farmer more or less likely to make the rather modest investment in farm safety practices and technologies, with the objective of finding what messages do and do not resonate with the target audience and spur a farmer to action.

 d. Farmland Preservation. Over the past three decades, the Commonwealth has invested approximately $1.5 billion to protect from the prospect of development high-value farmland for agricultural production in perpetuity. Ten years ago a study indicated that farmland contributes far more in tax dollars than it demands in services, unlike residential land which generally demands more in services than it contributes in tax dollars. New contemporary research is needed to update this understanding of the return on investment in the public’s support for farmland preservation programs. The Department seeks research proposals for projects that quantify this return, as well as the direct and indirect economic contribution of preserved farms to this Commonwealth’s economy, and the actual and avoided public service costs for preserved land compared to developed tracts.

 e. Banking and Market Development. Access to capital is often cited as a challenge for those in production agriculture, yet there is a dearth of research as to the accessibility to debt financing among the agriculture industry and different geographic regions of this Commonwealth. The Department seeks research proposals to assess the current lending environment in the farming industry in this Commonwealth. Proposals should attempt to quantify total loan originations, total loan volume, operating loans as percent of total nonreal estate loans and delinquency rates, among other factors. Research proposals should also seek to identify: differences in loan activity and performance between counties or regions, or both, of this Commonwealth; factors influencing loan repayments; what barriers exist to accessing financial capital; and whether particular counties or regions of this Commonwealth are underserved by financial service providers and products.

 f. Workforce Development. Developing a workforce development plan specific to agriculture is a priority of the Department. Initial research suggests nearly 75,000 employment vacancies will occur over the next decade within this Commonwealth’s agriculture and food industries. The Department is interested in finding ways to increase the education and training opportunities in the industry for people who are high school graduates, but do not wish to participate in post-secondary education. The Department seeks proposals from entities from within or that support the agriculture and food industry to design and implement micro-credentials or badges that teach specific skills that are not a part of the formal education systems. Interested parties will use a specific format for credential development provided by the Department. Mini-grants not to exceed $2,500 will be used to support development efforts and the process that will be used to evaluate the efficacy of the credential.

 g. Agricultural Environmental Solutions. This Commonwealth has a distinct and immediate opportunity to make a lasting positive impact on water quality within this Commonwealth and greater Chesapeake Bay (Bay) Watershed. With over 15,000 miles of streams and rivers, the Commonwealth provides 50% of the freshwater to the Bay annually, and over 90% of the freshwater to the upper Bay. These streams and rivers also provide critical recreational and drinking water sources within this Commonwealth. Within the Bay Watershed portion of this Commonwealth are approximately 34,000 small farms under 150 acres in size. These farms contribute strongly to this Commonwealth’s economy as well as the nutrient load in Commonwealth waters and to the Bay. The Department will accept research proposals that: introduce new methods and technology for cost-effective total maximum daily load reduction for nutrient waste streams amongst farms in the Bay Watershed; or introduce the drying and pelletizing of chicken manure as a best practice in sustainable farm management and proving an economically viable approach by creating a flexible pelletizing service.

 h. Hydroponics and Aquaponics. Within this Commonwealth, hydroponics and aquaponics systems have been recognized as an excellent way to teach science, technology, engineering and math knowledge and skills and as technology cluster that can support additional economic development in the food sector. The Department is interested in supporting action research where a hydroponics and aquaponics practitioner and an academic researcher collaborate on research that can solve practical problems experienced by these operations. Mini-grants of no more than $5,000 will be awarded to address issues such as, but not limited to, bringing production to a larger scale, lighting, nutrient solutions, integrated pest management and integration into broader market structures. The practitioner needs to apply the research-based solution and report their results for inclusion on a public database as a part of the project.

 i. Urban Agriculture. Urban agriculture and intensive agriculture practices have grown exponentially across this Commonwealth in recent years. There are hundreds of projects operating in this Commonwealth’s urban centers. The Department will accept proposals for research projects supported by mini-grants of no more than $5,000 where an urban agriculture practitioner and an academic researcher collaborate to solve a problem related to urban agriculture practice. Topics may include, but are not limited to, season extension, soil testing and remediation, intensive farming, production of new crops, adding value through canning and other forms of preservation, and new distribution and marketing processes. The practitioner needs to apply the research-based solution and report their results for inclusion on a public database as a part of the project.

 j. Avian Vaccinations. Avian influenza—both the low-pathogenic and high-pathogenic forms—is a top-of-mind concern for the poultry industry. The 2015 outbreak of high-pathogenic avian influenza decimated Midwestern United States poultry operations. Marek’s disease, which appeared to be well controlled for decades, has once again begun to plague the poultry layer industry. Much work remains to be done to develop vaccines to protect birds and the industry. The Department will accept proposals that seek to research the efficacy of various vaccines available in the United States and international markets, particularly those that study the in ovo application of vaccines.

 3.  Grant Agreement. The terms and conditions of the grant will be governed by a grant agreement between the Department and the applicant which shall be tendered to the applicant for execution, returnable in no more than 30 days.

 4. Application Delivery and Deadline. Interested applicants must deliver a complete research project proposal and grant application to the Department by 4 p.m. on Friday, January 26, 2018, if hand-delivered, or by mail post-marked on or before that same date. Applications should be addressed and delivered to the Department of Agriculture, ATTN: Michael Smith, Executive Deputy Secretary, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110.

 5. Format of the Project Proposal and Grant Application. The project proposal and grant application shall be formatted as follows:

 a. A cover page, titled Agricultural Research Project Proposal and Grant Application, providing: i) the title of the proposed project; ii) the name and address of the applicant; iii) the name, address, telephone number and e-mail address of the applicant’s principal contact person for matters relating to the application; and iv) the total maximum grant amount sought for the proposed project.

 b. Section 1, titled Statement of Purpose, explaining or presenting: i) the purpose for which the grant funds would be utilized; ii) how the project aligns with one or more of the research topics presented in Paragraph No. 2; iii) details of the proposed project, including a statement of expected impact of outcomes, staffing for the project, and objectives and methodologies.

 c. Section 2, titled Statement of Need, explaining the need for the grant funds sought, and identifying the presence of any additional funding partners and the extent of that funding.

 d. Section 3, titled Budget, presenting a detailed budget for the proposed project.

 e. Section 4, titled Criteria for Measuring Outcomes, identifying methods for measuring outcomes.

 f. Section 5, titled Industry Involvement, describing the extent of any support, participation and funding from agricultural industry, including any written confirmation of that support, participation or funding.

 6. Scoring of Applications. The Department will evaluate each complete and timely-filed project proposal and grant application it receives, using a 100-point scale assessing:

 a. up to 10 points for the research project needs statement.

 b. up to 15 points for the impact of research outcomes.

 c. up to 5 points for the presence of additional funding partners.

 d. up to 30 points for the research methodology.

 e. up to 20 points for project evaluation and replicability.

 f. up to 20 points for support and participation from industry.

 7. Scores. Upon completion of evaluations, the Department will prepare a record identifying each complete and timely-filed project proposal and grant application received and the numerical score assigned to each. The Department shall award grants based upon its evaluation and scoring.

 8. Multiyear Projects or Extensions. The Department may award grant funding for multiyear projects or extensions of an ongoing project, if the Department identifies that a multiyear term or an extension advances the grant’s objectives. Requests for extensions of ongoing projects shall be made, evaluated and processed in accordance with all the requirements of this notice.

 9. Notice of Award. Applicants shall be notified by mail of the decision on their grant applications by the Department. Best efforts will be made to do so within 15 days of the application deadline.

 10. Grant Agreement. With the mailed grant award notice, the Department will provide applicants with a grant agreement for execution and return within 30 days. The Department will obtain the required Commonwealth signatures on the grant agreements and return a copy of the fully-executed grant agreement to the applicant. No grant agreement is effective and work should not commence until all required signatures have been applied to the grant agreement. Among the terms of the grant agreement shall be a requirement that the grant recipient provide the Department full and complete access to all records relating to the performance of the project and submit such information as the Department may require.

 11. Nonmatching Cost-Reimbursable Grant. Grants made hereunder do not require the applicant secure or devote a matching sum to the project. Payment of grant funds will occur on a reimbursement basis, with an advance payment option.

 12. Reporting Requirements. Upon completion of research projects funded through this program, grant recipients will submit to the Department within 60 days a final report detailing the nature of the questions under study, an explanation of the research design and methods, findings of the research and recommendations for future study.

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 17-2176. Filed for public inspection December 29, 2017, 9:00 a.m.]