Friday, December 18, 2009
Snowy Afternoon Reflections on Grant Writing at a Land-Grant Institution
Several people have sent me emails recently asking if I am okay because I haven't posted anything on the blog since December 3rd. So I thought I'd take a few minutes on this very snowy day to tell you a little bit of what it is like being a faculty member at a land-grant institution right now.
First, I had to post a picture I just took of my chicken tractor because living here in North Carolina it is not often that I see it covered in snow! Last winter, the ladies came out into the little bit of snow we had, but I've not seen any of them walk out into the open today. They are staying nice and toasty and dry in their coop and little greenhouse area.
Back to what I've been up to. As most of you know, the public universities have all experienced tremendous budget cuts over the past five years or so. Most of the faculty I know working in the agriculture disciplines haven't had operating budgets in years. So the faculty have to write grant proposals or work out contracts with companies to conduct their research and extension programs. I feel fortunate that to have been fairly successful in these efforts, although it does come in waves. I write proposals all the time, and sometimes a high percentage of them are funded and other times I have a dry spell. Right now there are some really good federal grant opportunities, so everyone is frantically working to meet early January and February grant deadlines. Since most universities shut down for about ten days for the holidays, the time is even shorter than it appears.
Recent grants I've been awarded:
Through the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, I received a USDA Specialty Crops Block Grant to create an organic research unit at the Mountain Research Station in Waynesville, NC. The grant is for one year and most of the funds will be used to hire someone to survey farmers and researchers about their needs, visit other successful university research farms, create a land plan, start the organic certification process, develop guidelines for use of the land, start promoting it, and oversee at least a few initial projects. While that person is doing all that, I'll be trying to get funding to really get the program off and going.
I am a co-PI on a project funded by the US Forest Service to Land of Sky Regional Council on Cooperative Marketing of Non-Timber Forest Products. It is a two year project that has brought together a wonderfully diverse team of people. The project is unique in that we will be employing people in the non-timber forest products industry who are unemployed or underemployed to do most of the project.
I am a co-PI on a small one year hops project led by Rob Austin and Deanna Osmond in Soil Science and funded by the Golden Leaf Foundation. Rob will establish a hops research project in Raleigh looking at varieties and different fertility regimes. Here in the mountains I'll be working closely with our existing hops growers to collect soil and tissue samples to build a data base to help us figure out fertility requirements, and disease and insect samples to build a data base on those problems. We hope this project will give us sufficient preliminary information to create a proposal for a much larger grant.
Proposals that are pending:
I am a co-PI on a multi-state proposal to Southern SARE to continue training our extension agents in organic agriculture. I am just completing a similar project right now and it has been very effective and rewarding.
Proposals I'm frantically preparing right now:
What I am spending all my time on now are three proposals to big federal programs on specialty crops and organic agriculture. They are all very large, multi-state, multi-institution projects. One is on broccoli, another on Chinese medicinal herbs, and the last on organic tomatoes. Unless you have done one of these before, you can't imagine the amount of work, number of forms, and cooperator letters that need to be pulled together. The budgets are very complicated, and we are required to come up with matching funds. Some of those matching funds can be in the form of the value of the time and effort supplied by farmer cooperators. So, if I ever ask you to be a farmer cooperator, which many of you have been, I will now ask if you can put a dollar value on the time you will put into the project. That is a huge help if you can provide it.
So that is what I am up to right now. It does take a lot of time, time that I think could be better spent conducting research, writing up research results, writing information for farmers, and visiting farmers. So if you know of someone who would like to support my program so I can do those things instead of grant writing, I'd love to speak with them. Until I find that generous contributor, I'll be spending a lot of time writing proposals to support my program to help you, our farmers.
That said, I still think I have the best job at NC State University. I work with the greatest group of farmers in the world, the friendliest industry contacts, and the most fun crops. I mean, how can it not be fun working with hops, truffles, ginseng, and organic heirloom tomatoes!!!!