Special to the Banner-News
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an investment of over $12.5 million as part of the USDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The Phase I awards will support 76 small businesses conducting high-quality research that addresses critical scientific challenges and opportunities in agriculture.
"The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to investing, growing and supporting small businesses through increased market opportunities that also strengthen the food system nationally and locally," said Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young. "Science-based innovations from federally funded research, often developed through public-private partnerships, create products and services that increase productivity and enhance global competitiveness for the U.S. agriculture sector."
The awards announced today include the first round of USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)-funded STTR awards, which accelerate projects led by small businesses partnering with nonprofit research institutions to transfer technology to the marketplace. The STTR program supports 15 businesses in 12 states, from Georgia to Washington, with a $2.5 million investment.
"Small businesses play a key role driving innovation in the food and agriculture sectors," said USDA NIFA Director Dr. Manjit K. Misra. "By partnering with research institutions, these small businesses are bridging an important gap between where science is conducted and how it is made available to the public."
In addition to the STTR projects, NIFA is investing $9.9 million in 61 SBIR projects, supporting research addressing challenges in areas including conserving natural resources, plant and animal production, and developing biobased products.
Among awards in both programs, 20 go to minority- or woman-owned small businesses. Twenty-two of the small businesses are in HUBZones, which are urban or rural communities located in economically distressed areas.
Some of the funded businesses include Evergreen Aquatics in Washington to improve the viability of burbot, a cod-like freshwater fish, as a new U.S. aquaculture species; Home Grown Fuels in Vermont, in partnership with the University at Albany, to use plants to clean up contamination from "forever chemicals;" Padma Agrobotics in Arizona to develop an automated robotic harvester for cilantro and other specialty crops harvested in bunches; and Shende LLC in South Dakota to develop a novel heat transfer fluid system that converts solar energy into thermal energy to support an energy-efficient, wind and hail-resistant solar greenhouse usable in extreme winter temperatures.
Phase I request for SBIR and STTR funding is currently accepting proposals until September 19, 2023.
The STTR program was implemented by NIFA in 2022 after USDA reached a $1 billion threshold in extramural research funding. Learn more about USDA's SBIR-STTR programs on the NIFA website.
USDA also released its Fiscal Year 2022 Technology Transfer Annual Report. The report highlights science-based, innovative research outcomes from various USDA agencies that benefit farmers, ranchers, producers, foresters, the agricultural sector and the greater public good. This year's report showcases 156 new inventions, 79 patent applications, 38 newly issued patents and 653 licenses.
Some outcomes highlighted in this year's report include: NovolBio, a recipient of USDA SBIR funding, who is developing the world's first sustainable prescription eyeglass lenses and zero-waste production platform; USDA-certified biobased personal care ingredients made from renewable vegetable oils; Intellisense Systems LLC who is developing a novel Fire Weather Observation Sensor system to facilitate detection and management of wildfires on forest lands; and USDA's release of six new conservation plants to the public and commercial growers.
Technology transfer functions are critical to accelerating public research and development investments, enhancing economic opportunities, and creating jobs. Continued investments in research and development are instrumental components of the newly released USDA Science and Research Strategy, 2023-2026: Cultivating Scientific Innovation. The Strategy details how science and technology can shape the future of U.S. agriculture and forestry to be more prosperous, profitable and sustainable.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America's food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy, and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.