Other Ag News: SARE Delivers for Farmers. Will Congress Deliver for SARE?

Wednesday, April 10, 2024 - 10:16am

Last week, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), alongside 97 food, farm, conservation, and rural organizations, delivered a letter to Congressional Appropriators urging them to fully fund the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) at $60 million in fiscal year (FY) 2025. 

SARE was one of NSAC’s first legislative accomplishments over 35 years ago and to this day remains one of our Coalition’s top funding priorities.  However, after more than 35 years of proven on-the-ground results, the program has yet to reach its fully authorized funding amount of $60 million. SARE is funded at $48 million for FY 2024. For a quick look at the final FY2024 agriculture funding levels, see NSAC’s detailed appropriations chart.

SARE funding is divided and administered by four regional Administrative Councils that coordinate with four regional host institutions and a National Coordinating Center. The four regional SARE programs (Northeast, Southern, North Central, and Western) manage several regionally based grant programs, including the Research and Education (R&E) grant program, the Professional Development Program (PDP), Farmer and Rancher (F&R) grants, and the Graduate Student Grant Program. SARE’s regional delivery structure ensures that local needs are met and all regions of the country benefit equally. The program’s priority on outreach ensures that SARE research results are disseminated directly to farmers and that practices can consequently be adopted in their fields at a much faster pace than through traditional agricultural research. This makes the SARE program one of the most cost effective and administratively efficient competitive research programs within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The current demand for sustainable agriculture solutions far outweighs available resources. According to SARE’s 2021-2022 Biannual Report From the Field, less than half of Farmer Rancher Grant proposals were able to receive funding in 2021. Farmers and ranchers have critical insight when it comes to improving their systems, and the increasing demand for farmer-led research continues to outpace federal funding. Increased funding for SARE will play a crucial role in helping SARE’s farmer-driven research keep pace with the growing challenges related to the state of the rural economy, soil health, and competitiveness of American producers. 


Since 1988, SARE has funded 8,791 farmer-driven research and education initiatives through competitive grant awards totaling nearly $406 million. As the only farmer-driven, sustainable agriculture competitive research grant program offered by the USDA, SARE provides farmers and researchers with vital opportunities to better understand agricultural systems, increase profitability, and build resilience to climate change. SARE-backed initiatives have furthered stewardship of the land and its natural resources by funding research on topics such as soil health management, crop and livestock integration, soil erosion and runoff mitigation, and organic farming practices. In addition to research, many SARE projects also address social and demographic challenges faced by farming communities, including challenges faced by minority and underserved farmers, access to land, challenges for young and beginning farmers, and rural quality of life.

Top 5 States for SARE Funding (1988-2024) StateNumber of SARE AwardsTotal Amount AwardedNew York608$22,831,433California256$17,312,380North Carolina251$16,692,091Minnesota385$15,927,361Pennsylvania366$15,795,038

Key Projects Funded by SARE in each Region

North Central SARE, North Dakota 

Organic No-till in Perennial Cover

  • Farmer James Ryan of North Dakota used a SARE Farmer Rancher Grant to study a form of organic no-till, the planting of annual grains in perennial cover, to learn if they could achieve a “consistent and reasonable” crop yield above their break-even bushels, as well as achieve additional soil and ecological benefits over two years. 

Northeast SARE, Pennsylvania

“Use of alternative row covers and pollinators to manage insect pests and improve cucurbit production and profitability”

  • Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, an NSAC member, used a SARE grant to build upon the growing body of research addressing the need to identify a cost-effective, environmentally neutral control method for cucumber beetle, squash bug, and vine borer. Previous research has shown that row covers can have a positive impact on cucurbit crop yields by providing a barrier to insect pests. Their project focused on using row covers and introduced pollinators to control cucurbit pests, optimize cucurbit flower pollination, and increase cucurbit crop yields.  

Southern SARE, Georgia

Small Farms and Big Market Barriers

  • Dr. Niki Whitley of Fort Valley State University, an 1890-Land Grant HBCU, is currently using a SARE Research and Education Grant to Research to identify barriers for small-scale farmers to market sustainable food products (meat, veggies, fruits) into large markets using surveys (multiple implementation methods), focus groups, and personal interviews, to investigate/determine the feasibility (for farmers/farm cooperatives/groups) of methods for overcoming those barriers and entering into larger markets (conduct feasibility studies). Through this grant they provide education, demonstrations, and resources for methods/processes to overcome barriers and enter into larger markets, sustaining and expanding the number of small-scale farmers marketing into larger markets and increasing available local, sustainable foods.

Western SARE, California

“Biointensive no-till farming in California: farmer-driven research and education on soil health, water efficiency and economic resiliency”

  • Community Alliance with Family Farmers, an NSAC member, in collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Davis, is currently using a SARE grant to build a coalition of researchers, non-profits, and partner farms to explore how management practices on existing biointensive no-till systems affect soil health (carbon, microbial activity, and biodiversity), water conservation (soil water retention), farm economic resilience (including labor costs, land security, distribution networks), and potential response to climate change scenarios (crop nutrient density, drought response, seed biodiversity). In addition, this project will establish a “community science” training program through partnerships with regional community colleges and high schools to increase producer participation in research and education, ensure the scientific rigor of farmers’ observations, and share science-based extension.

Recently, President Biden released the FY2025 Presidential Budget Request which outlines a path forward for funding and policy, including a level funding request of $50 million for SARE in FY2025. As this fiscal year’s appropriations process begins in earnest on Capitol Hill in the weeks ahead, NSAC remains a strong supporter of SARE and continues to advocate for growing the program’s research and funding capacity. To learn more about SARE and its impacts, visit the NSAC Grassroots Guide.

The post SARE Delivers for Farmers. Will Congress Deliver for SARE? appeared first on National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

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