Our nation’s land grant universities have a long history of working directly with farmers in their respective regions to bring new cultivars to local farm fields. These public plant breeding efforts focus on crops adapted to a region’s climate and soil conditions, while taking into account consumer demands and market opportunities, such as organic. These programs also typically focus on needs that are not a priority for seed companies.
But over the last few decades, the number of public cultivar developers has been shrinking. One reason for this trend is that our taxpayer investments have been funneled toward other agricultural research priorities. Along the way, cultivar development was left stranded without adequate support.
Thankfully, the tide is shifting, and plant breeders working to finish cultivar projects should take note of language in the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s (AFRI) request for applications (RFA) for its Foundational and Applied Science Program.
Public plant breeders – those at universities and in the nonprofit sector – rely on these competitive grant programs to fund breeding projects. That’s why we’re thrilled to see new language in this RFA under the category of “Plant Health and Production and Plant Products” that identifies “cultivar development” as a funding priority. Specifically, the RFA states:
Later stages of cultivar development focused on testing and evaluation of developed materials in established regional trials with the primary goal of releasing publicly finished cultivars is encouraged.
The deadline for applications is July 18, 2019. Interested applicants should note that this RFA is also soliciting proposals for 2020, but the application kit won’t be available until after December 18, 2019. Learn more here.
Organic Seed Alliance applauds this new RFA language and encourages public cultivar developers in need of support for trialing, finishing, and releasing new cultivars to take advantage of this funding opportunity.
Our partners at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) have detailed the new AFRI call for proposals even further in this blogpost.
This new AFRI call isn’t the only sign we’ve seen from DC that things are shifting. Last year we applauded Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) for introducing the Seeds for the Future Act. Though not included in the 2018 Farm Bill, the bill led to related provisions that aim to bolster our national germplasm collections. These successes are the result of years of policy advocacy by NSAC and the National Organic Coalition, both of which OSA is a proud member.