USDA earmarks $7.4 million in research grants

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Seventy-six small businesses across the United States will receive a total of $7.4 million in grants to conduct research related to food security, natural resources, and agricultural issues. The grants are made possible through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a competitive funding source that is coordinated by the Small Business Administration and administered by 11 U.S. federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The purpose of the SBIR program is to encourage domestic small businesses to engage in high-growth research and development that has the potential for commercialization and may lead to significant public benefit, the USDA said.

“USDA is proud to stand behind America’s small businesses, whose ingenuity and commitment to community is appreciated worldwide,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Rural America is finally on the road to recovery after one of the worst economic recessions in our history, and we cannot underestimate the role that small businesses’ innovation has played in bringing jobs back to their hometowns. The Small Business Innovation Research Program is one of many ways that USDA has helped thousands of rural businesses expand on new ideas for the benefit of their own operations and for our society as a whole.”

Several of the grants will go toward projects that aim to provide a service to the grain industry. For example, a $100,000 grant has been awarded to Arcadia Bioscience Inc., Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., to develop new wheat varieties with increased yield by identifying and evaluating novel genetic variation in candidate yield/plant architecture genes.

“Our preliminary work resulted in identification of mutant alleles in our candidate genes,” Arcadia said. “Our data suggests that some of the single homoeolog mutations in two of our candidate genes lead to increases in seed size, as expected. These promising lines will continue to be backcrossed and homoeologs stacked to determine if multiple homoeolog mutations lead to additive effects. A major question of Phase I research will be to determine if mutations that lead to seed size increases in the greenhouse result in yield benefits in the field.”

Another $100,000 grant has been earmarked for Windcall Manufacturing, Inc., Venango, Nebraska, U.S. Windcall is developing new technology with miniaturized handheld grain combine for eliminating increasing costs in pre-harvest sampling.

Windcall said the project has two major goals. Goal No. 1 is to demonstrate the capabilities of a 15-ton grain combine miniaturized to hand-held proportions, powered by a commercially available rechargeable battery significantly impacting agriculture and the communities serving the agricultural industry.

“Our device will replace full-sized combines and will harvest, thresh, and test moisture saving growers time, labor and fuel expenses,” Windcall said. “This device would improve grain harvesting practices by increasing yields by pinpointing optimum harvest time. This project seeks to develop an agricultural machine that can enable grain farmers to accurately determine moisture prior to harvest without the expensive use of a full-sized combine.”

Goal No. 2 is to achieve educational outreach.

“This is such a new technology/tool that growers and harvesters must be made aware of the cost savings by showing them the amount of money they are losing during current practices,” Windcall said. “In addition, they must be encouraged to replace their old practices with this new device.”

The National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) administers USDA's portion of the SBIR program with additional funding provided by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agricultural Research Service, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. More information on the SBIR projects may be viewed here

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